Washington's Do Nothing Plan

Special Guests: Bob Kerrey, Jack Danforth

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This week on Facing the Future, Bob was joined by Concord Coalition Co-Chairs and former U.S. Senators Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and Jack Danforth (R-MO). Thirty years ago they co-chaired a bipartisan commission on entitlement and tax reform that warned of unsustainable budget trends. Reflecting back upon the past three decades, the bright spots are overshadowed by the same looming problems the Kerrey-Danforth Commission warned of in 1994. The Co-Chairs outlined where we stand and where we go from here. Concord Coalition Policy Director Tori Gorman joined the conversation.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Kerrey said that he and Danforth were “mad as hell” about the lack of action from our nation’s leaders. “I continue to hear elected officials talk about caring about their grandchildren. Maybe we ought to make it illegal for them to say that because their behavior betrays that they don’t really care about it. The problem is the mandatory spending programs just keep getting larger and larger. These mandatory programs are consuming more and more of national resources,” he wrote. 

Kerrey explained who this lack of resources disadvantages the most. “Whatever investments you want to make, whether it’s defense or non-defense spending, you have less and less available. Those investments typically benefit the future. I grew up in the 1960s and benefited enormously from the decision to build the interstate highways in the 1950s. We’re making no comparable investments today. I think we older Americans are not going to pay a price for it, but my 22 year-old and my grandchildren are certainly going to pay a price for it.”

Danforth followed up with a reflection on what changes haven’t been made since the Kerrey-Danforth Commission in 1994. “Nothing has come of it. We produced wonderful, 4-color charts showing the problem we were in and particularly the problems that Social Security and Medicare were in. Now, Social Security is going to become insolvent in 11 years, meaning that Social Security benefits will be cut, if nothing is done, by 17 percent 11 years from now. So if somebody 60 years old is planning for retirement, the current plan is to cut your benefits when you are 70 or so. What makes us mad is that nothing gets done about this. There’s just one commission after another, and they all say essentially the same thing: ‘we’ve got to do something.’ And nothing gets done, because it’s politically unpopular to do anything.”

“There are only two ways to do it. Either reduce benefits or you increase taxes. Politicians are not interested in what happens to retirees 11 years from now. They’re interested in the next election,” Danforth said.

On the topic of Thursday night’s presidential debate, Kerrey suggested what he would liked to have asked President Biden and former President Trump, “‘Both of you are in support of the Do Nothing Plan. What do you say to 70 year olds who are listening tonight knowing that the Do Nothing Plan produces a 17 percent cut in their benefits?’ I’d start with that. And then I’d say ‘What do you say to a 20 year old, to a 30 year old? You keep talking about their future. Their future is even worse than that 70 year old’s because they’re going to have to pay for it with a shrinking amount of workers per beneficiary. Why do you support a Do Nothing Plan with the negative consequences that are clearly a part of that plan?’”

Danforth added, “I think it’s really important for these financial gurus and experts to call out whatever is offered by the candidates, if anything is offered by the candidates, to redirect public attention to the real problems and the real possible answers to the problems.”

Hear more on Facing the Future. Concord Coalition Executive Director Bob Bixby hosts the program each week on WKXL in Concord N.H., and it is also available via podcast. Join us as The Concord Coalition team discusses issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook, and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.

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