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Citing Past Calls for Social Security Cuts, Progressives Not Pleased With Biden Pick of Neera Tanden for OMB

"Everything toxic about the corporate Democratic Party is embodied in Neera Tanden."

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, moderates a discussion on February 12, 2018.

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, moderates a discussion on February 12, 2018. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Reports late Sunday that President-elect Joe Biden has decided to nominate Neera Tanden, head of the corporate-backed think tank Center for American Progress, to lead his budget office drew an icy reception from progressives, who pointed to the Democratic operative's history of attacking policies such as Medicare for All and voicing support for Social Security cuts.

If confirmed as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Tanden would be charged with crafting the Biden administration's spending agenda—a task that has taken on even greater significance amid the coronavirus pandemic and an unprecedented economic calamity that calls for sweeping stimulus measures.

"When it comes to OMB, the best thing you can say is that Neera Tanden is not at all a deficit hawk, and that matters in that position. CAP took a risk to buck the White House in 2013 and come out against their deficit hysteria."
—Ryan Grim, The Intercept

As Common Dreams reported last week, a coalition of progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups is warning Biden against selecting any deficit hawks to serve in his cabinet—specifically training their focus on austerity proponent Bruce Reed, an architect of Bill Clinton's destructive "welfare reform" plan and head of an Obama-era commission that recommended deep cuts to Social Security.

While news that Reed is out of the running for OMB chief was welcomed by progressives, the selection of Tanden—who worked under Reed in the Clinton White House—also sparked concerns given her past comments on healthcare policy and Social Security.

"Everything toxic about the corporate Democratic Party is embodied in Neera Tanden," tweeted Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 2020 presidential campaign.

A Clinton loyalist with a penchant for demonizing progressives, Tanden was an architect of the Affordable Care Act and has since endorsed healthcare proposals like "Medicare for America," a plan single-payer proponents have rejected as a false solution that would leave intact the most predatory elements of the for-profit system. As a representative of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, Tanden clashed with National Nurses United over Medicare for All during that year's Democratic platform fight.

Tanden also has a history of expressing support for Social Security and Medicare cuts, as The Daily Poster's Walker Bragman documented.

"We should have savings on entitlements, and the Center for American Progress has put forward ideas on proposals to reform the beneficiary structure of Social Security—some of our progressive allies aren't as excited about that as we are," Tanden said in a 2012 C-SPAN appearance. "But we've put those ideas on the table. We think that those are legitimate ideas that need to be part of a proposal where everyone's at the table. We don't just ask middle-class Americans to sacrifice. We ask all Americans."

Though she's frequently described in the media as a progressive, "leaked internal emails reveal Tanden's own political instincts to depart from what is typically considered 'progressive,'" Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs noted in 2018.

"She advised the Clinton campaign against a $15 minimum wage, and in one disturbing instance, as Glenn Greenwald has reported, argued 'that Libyans should be forced to turn over large portions of their oil revenues to repay the U.S. for the costs incurred in bombing Libya, on the grounds that Americans will support future wars only if they see that the countries attacked by the U.S. pay for the invasions,'" Robinson wrote.

News that Biden intends to nominate Tanden for OMB came as the president-elect began to assemble a team of economic advisers which will inherit a crisis that has pushed millions into permanent unemployment, shuttered businesses across the nation, and left countless Americans unable to afford basic necessities.

"The former vice president has picked Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University labor economist, to be chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers," the Wall Street Journal reported. "The president-elect has selected Adewale 'Wally' Adeyemo, a former senior international economic adviser during the Obama administration, to serve as Ms. Yellen's top deputy at the Treasury Department. And he will turn to two campaign economic advisers, Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey, to serve as members of the CEA alongside Ms. Rouse."

Justin Wolfers, a professor at the University of Michigan, praised Biden's emerging team of economic advisers—which the former vice president is expected to formally announce this week—as "damn solid."

"This is a group that is individually and collectively committed to both full employment, and boosting wages," said Wolfers.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich offered a similar assessment, tweeting, "Excellent. All committed to full employment, boosting wages, reducing inequality."

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