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Biden Taps Bruce Reed, Deficit Hawk and Longtime Enemy of Social Security, for Deputy Chief of Staff

"You cannot have Bruce Reed in your administration and pretend Social Security is safe."

Joe Biden arrives for a meeting with a bicameral and bipartisan group of legislators with his Chief of Staff Bruce Reed on June 22, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Joe Biden arrives for a meeting with a bicameral and bipartisan group of legislators with his Chief of Staff Bruce Reed on June 22, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he has selected longtime adviser and notorious deficit hawk Bruce Reed to serve as deputy chief of staff, alarming progressives who have warned for weeks that the Democratic operative's record of commitment to austerity and support for Social Security cuts should disqualify him for any role in the White House.

Originally considered a leading contender to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before Biden selected Neera Tanden for that role, Reed is one of the architects of former President Bill Clinton's disastrous "welfare reform" as well as the 1994 crime bill, which Biden helped craft.

"During the worst national crisis since the Great Depression, the last thing we need are Social Security cuts—or any other form of austerity. We are extremely disappointed by this selection."
—Alex Lawson, Social Security Works

More recently, Reed served as executive Director of the Bowles-Simpson commission, an Obama administration initiative that in 2010 recommended slashing Social Security benefits and raising the program's retirement age. Reed was the lead author of the commission's report, "The Moment of Truth" (pdf).

A bio distributed by Biden's team notes that Reed "has spent 12 years working on domestic and economic policy in the White House," but does not mention welfare reform, the crime bill, or the Bowles-Simpson commission.

Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, part of a coalition of advocacy groups that urged Biden to keep Reed away from the White House, said the selection of Reed is "inconsistent" with the president-elect's "campaign promise to protect and expand Social Security benefits."

"During the worst national crisis since the Great Depression, the last thing we need are Social Security cuts—or any other form of austerity. We are extremely disappointed by this selection," Lawson said in a statement. "Fortunately, many other top appointments, including Ron Klain as Chief of Staff, are far more consistent with the platform Biden ran on. Bruce Reed needs to conform to the path laid out by President-elect Biden and build back better, without even a tiny hint of cruel cuts and devastating austerity."

"Austerity is a pathway to disaster," Lawson added. "Biden should listen to the voices telling him to turn the page on the austerity economics of the past."

Amira Hassan, political director for Justice Democrats, warned in a tweet Tuesday that Reed "has not evolved from his views in the slightest," citing a 2018 interview in which he touted the Bowles-Simpson commission report and said "everything should be on the table."

"He is an ideologue who has never apologized or distanced himself from the many policy failures he helped create," said Hassan. "Seeing him named as Deputy CoS is not encouraging. He should be kept as far away from Congressional negotiations as possible. He believes in austerity for working people and hand-outs for corporations."

In a statement announcing his selection of Reed and others for White House staff posts, Biden described the new picks as "respected leaders whose values and priorities align with my own"—words not likely to reassure progressives, given Reed's history of deficit hawkery and attacks on the remnants of America's social safety net.

"Bruce Reed is no team player—his whole project in politics has been slapping down the left," the Revolving Door Project, a watchdog group that scrutinizes the executive branch, argued at the end of a Twitter thread on Tuesday detailing Reed's policy record. "If Joe Biden wants a paradigmatic infighter in his inner circle, why should the left think Biden will ever act in good faith?"

Deputy chief of staff is not a particularly powerful position and likely not the role Reed preferred, as The American Prospect's David Dayen pointed out on Twitter. But with Tanden likely to face confirmation troubles if the GOP retains control of the Senate, it is possible that Reed could be put forth as the alternative for OMB chief.

Regardless of which post he ultimately ends up holding, the prospect of Reed being in the White House and having the ear of Biden was enough to concern progressives.

"You cannot have Bruce Reed in your administration and pretend Social Security is safe," tweeted Tyson Brody, former research director for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 2020 presidential campaign.

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