In his July 11 op-ed column [“Why we’re in the budgetary soup”], Robert J. Samuelson noted that Washington policy organizations often serve as gatekeepers that determine which ideas are considered acceptable by elected policymakers.
He contended that both Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, and Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, have thwarted deficit reduction efforts by promoting intransigence — Mr. Norquist by stubbornly opposing tax increases, Mr. Greenstein by allegedly refusing to acknowledge the need to make changes in Social Security or Medicare or raise taxes (beyond the wealthy) to finance the safety net.
The comparison is absurd. Whereas Mr. Norquist persuades members of Congress to sign no-tax pledges, Mr. Greenstein has argued against pledges to oppose any Social Security or Medicare benefit cuts. He has stressed that everything should be on the table for deficit reduction, and he and the center have designed and promoted reductions in various programs as well as revenue increases. Mr. Greenstein and the center have endorsed proposals to: establish stringent but reasonable caps on discretionary spending; index Social Security, other retirement benefits and the tax code by a more accurate measure of inflation; raise premiums for high-income Medicare beneficiaries; and reduce Medicare’s drug costs. And despite Mr. Samuelson’s account, Mr. Greenstein and the center have called for all of the Bush tax cuts to expire, not just for couples with incomes above $250,000 (singles above $200,000).
Henry J. Aaron and Robert D. Reischauer, Washington
The writers are, respectively, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and president of the Urban Institute. Both are board members of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.