Sad Precedents for the Deficit Commission

Sad Precedents for the Deficit Commission

Benjamin Ross: Sad Precedents for the Deficit Commission

We learn in this morning’s Washington Post that the salaries of key Deficit Commission staffers are paid by groups advocating cuts in Social Security. Yesterday the commission chairs floated their proposals, endorsing those groups’ desire for massive reductions in retirement benefits while ignoring the calls for higher taxation of bankers that came from such leftist bastions as the International Monetary Fund.

Barbara Kennelly of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare told the Post that the outside pay is “unprecedented” and casts doubt on the commission’s fairness. She’s surely right about the commission’s fairness, but she’s wrong to call the private funding unprecedented.

The precedents, however, are hardly encouraging. Privately funded government commissions were a favorite device of Herbert Hoover. My book The Polluters recounts how Hoover turned the Bureau of Mines, then the government’s main environmental agency, into what he called “a service bureau for the mining industry.” The American Petroleum Institute funded the Bureau’s study of oil spills, and the Ethyl Corporation funded a study commission on leaded gasoline–after which refineries were exempted from the Oil Pollution Act of 1924 and a 1925 suspension of leaded gasoline sales was quickly lifted.

These procedural precedents reinforce what we already knew from yesterday’s proposals. The agenda of the Deficit Commission’s leaders is a return to the world of Herbert Hoover.