Presidential commission bodes ill for people with disabilities

President Obama’s decision to create a commission on how to cut so-called entitlement programs is ominous news for millions of people with disabilities.

In January, the Senate rejected legislation endorsed by Obama that would have created such a commission.

So in his State of the Union address, the president said he would create a similar “bipartisan fiscal commission” by executive order. Obama stated that his commission will be “modeled” on the one rejected by the Senate.

If his commission is anything like the one that was in the Senate bill, it would pose a serious threat to people with disabilities, seniors and others who rely on programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Here’s how the Senate bill would have worked: If 14 of the 18 members appointed to the commission agreed on recommendations, those recommendations would have been submitted to Congress after the Nov. 2 midterm elections. The bill would have required Congress to rush through the legislative process and vote by Dec. 23 on whether or not to make all the recommended changes law. What’s worse, no amendments would have been allowed. (Both the Senate and the House would have had to pass the bill by a three-fifths majority.)

I have no doubt the commission’s recommendations would have included some harsh cuts in many vital support programs. Already, the House and Senate health care bills have proposed large Medicare spending cuts. And Republicans are clamoring for more cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Reducing the federal deficit is not as important as providing for the basic necessities for retired people or poor people with disabilities. Plus, there are other places to cut, such as the Pentagon and corporate welfare.

But the president seems bent on extracting more sacrifices from the elderly and the poorest disabled Americans.

The president spent a lot of time in his State of the Union speech telling middle class Americans how much he understands the pain being inflicted upon them by this dreadful economy. But people on fixed incomes are hurting, too. And they will hurt a lot more if the president uses his commission to justify slashing programs that are lifelines for millions of Americans.

Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT (www.adapt.org). He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.