KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey talks with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a member of President Obama’s 2010 debt commission led by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. Schakowsky says lawmakers on the “super committee” should aim for a balanced approach, that includes new tax revenue as well as budget cuts, before asking Medicare beneficiaries to pay more.
Here’s a transcript of the interview:
MARY AGNES CAREY: Good day, I’m Mary Agnes Carey and this is Health On The Hill. Today we continue our series of interviews with past members of deficit panels to get their perspective on the deliberations of the “super committee.” Those discussions are to begin this fall on Capitol Hill. Joining us today is Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who was a member of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Thanks so much for joining us.
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: It’s my pleasure, thank you.
MARY AGNES CAREY: Several “super committee” members have been announced. What do you think of the panel so far and were there any surprises?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, here’s my concern. It seems as if all six of the Republicans that have been appointed are deeply committed to no increases in revenue i.e. no increase in taxes I guess for anybody. And I think that’s a serious problem because the Simpson-Bowles commission on which I sat, a major premise of it was that there had to be both revenue and cuts. And so if the discussion begins that everything has to be from cutting from the budget, I think the commission is unlikely to come up with a consensus view.
MARY AGNES CAREY: Sure, now, you talked about your work on the President’s commission. What advice would you give the 12 lawmakers on this newest panel to help make it a success?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I appreciated what the President had said when he urged Americans to call Congress I know my phone was ringing off of the wall that we have a balanced approach. This notion that somehow the United States is broke and that the thing we have to do is live within our means, I think is a misguided approach. America is not broke.
The 400 richest Americans now make as much money as 150 million and that it’s time now to ask the people who have done so well in our country to pay their fair share. And I also think that we have to look at many of the tax breaks that we’ve given over the years again, mostly skewed toward wealthiest Americans.
And, of course, Simpson-Bowles significantly put the defense budget on the table and those cuts have to be there too. And there seems to be some reluctance by some of the Republicans, certainly in the House, to significantly cutting the defense budget in ways that don’t hurt our national security, by the way.
MARY AGNES CAREY: How do you overcome you talked about some of the nominees so far very clearly do not want tax hikes, you talked about many Republicans don’t want to cut defense. These are long-held positions. How do you get those folks to move on this when they haven’t so far?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: The triggers that would go into effect if the committee does not agree were intended to be an incentive for coming to an agreement. For example, there would be automatic and very dramatic cuts in the defense budget. So those on the committee who are against cuts in defense may be inclined to negotiate rather than to allow the even-larger cuts to go through automatically if the commission fails to come up with a plan. Medicare would be on table for cuts. And perhaps some of the Democrats, to avoid those cuts, would want to negotiate in other ways.
I worry about the trigger, and I worry about the tone of the discussions. It’s going to seem intractable, as these discussions have seemed for a long time.
MARY AGNES CAREY: So you think this 2 percent trigger might you’re talking here about defense and tax issues with Republicans – but also could that be an incentive for Democrats who have been reluctant, possibly, to move on entitlements. Is that 2 percent trigger such a motivating factor it might really get this panel to come to a deal?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: One of the reasons that I voted against the final Simpson-Bowles proposal is that this idea – [that entitlements are] a gift to the American people – is not how Americans see it. Every cent of income goes to pay for Medicare during your working life, and for most Americans all of their income they pay into Social Security and see it as something that they own, that they’ve paid for, and that’s a wholesome view of the so-called entitlement programs. It’s not just that you deserve it because you’re a nice person. It’s because you have paid for those programs, and, in the case of Medicare, of course, you continue to pay if you’re a beneficiary in your premiums and co-payments, etc.
I just think that the very idea of putting those programs on the table and asking elderly, frail people to be responsible for the economy of the United States and debt reduction, before we even touch a hair on the head of the wealthiest Americans, or corporations that are getting tax breaks, or big oil companies and not paying taxes like G.E. is, zero in taxes plus billions of dollars in tax breaks — and oil companies that are getting subsidies I just think is un-American and unfair.
MARY AGNES CAREY: Thanks so much for your time today, Representative Jan Schakowsky.
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