I spoke with Barney Frank today about the current debt ceiling debate. He said he would not vote for any bill that raised the debt ceiling which included cuts to Social Security or Medicare benefits, including a chained CPI, which is included in the Gang of 6 deal.
Frank has been a supporter of increasing, not decreasing, the way cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security are calculated. “Old people use a lot more medicine and buy a lot fewer ipods” he said, referring to the way that increases are currently calculated.
“We did a crusade for a cost-of-living increase last year, and there was some resistance in Democratic leadership, so they put it on the suspension calendar” he said. The decision of Democratic party leadership to bring the legislation up under a “suspension of rules” meant that it could only pass if two-thirds of those present vote in favor of it. So despite the fact that a cost-of-living increase for Social Security recipients had a majority of votes (254-153) in 2010, it fell short of the two-thirds threshold needed for passage.
I also asked if he would support a debt ceiling bill that included a commission to make budget recommendations which would receive an up-or-down vote in congress, reportedly a feature of the McConnell-Reid plan (Catfood Commission II). Such commissions have historically been the way that congress passes unpopular legislation, and Social Security slashers have been pushing for one for years.
“The only commission I ever voted for was the base closing commission” said Frank. He said that he would vote for a “commission that makes recommendations,” like Simpson-Bowles. “But if it’s got any kind of parliamentary advantage, then no.”
He also addressed the issue of invoking the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling, something Bill Clinton said would use today.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” said Frank. “First of all, I think that it lets the right wing off the hook — it lets them claim they were dead set against it. Secondly, I think it looks undemocratic.”
“I’ve been critical of the unitary executive,” he said. “It’s an accretion of executive power.”
But what if no agreement is forthcoming? Frank said he would support using the 14th Amendment “only after there was a bad result, and the predictable economic consequences came.”
He says he would prefer to accept the offer made by Mitch McConnell, which gives the President the power to raise the debt ceiling on his own authority “if that’s all it is, that the President gets to say it.”
He worried however that there would be other things added to the McConnell deal in order to bring House Republicans on board, such as binding domestic cuts. McConnell had offered a vote on a clean debt ceiling increase with no budget cuts, but it forces the President and the Democrats to take ownership of it.
“I would vote for that so that we take the responsibility for raising it, but they have to take the vote to do it” he says. “And that would cause them all kinds of grief.”