In addition to mandatory private health insurance premiums, we may soon be hit with a “mandatory savings” tax and other belt-tightening measures urged by the president’s new budget task force. These radical austerity measures are not only unnecessary, but will actually make matters worse. The push for “fiscal responsibility” is based on bad economics.

When billionaires pledge a billion dollars to educate people to the evils of something, it is always good to peer closely at what they are up to. Hedge fund magnate Peter G. Peterson was formerly chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and head of the New York Federal Reserve. He is now senior chairman of Blackstone Group, which is in charge of dispersing government funds in the controversial AIG bailout, widely criticized as a government giveaway to banks. Peterson is also founder of the Peter Peterson Foundation, which has adopted the cause of imposing “fiscal responsibility” on Congress. He hired David M. Walker, former head of the Government Accounting Office, to spearhead a massive campaign to reduce the runaway federal debt, which the Peterson/Walker team blames on reckless government and consumer spending. The Foundation funded the movie “I.O.USA.” to amass popular support for their cause, which largely revolves around dismantling Social Security and Medicare benefits as a way to cut costs and return to “fiscal responsibility.”

The Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform has pushed heavily for action to stem the federal debt. Bills for a budget task force were sponsored in both houses of Congress. The Senate bill was narrowly defeated, and the House bill was tabled; but that was not the end of it. In Obama’s State of the Union speech on January 27, he said he would be creating a presidential budget task force by executive order to address the federal government’s deficit and debt crisis, and that the task force would be modeled on the bills Congress had failed to pass. If Congress would not impose “fiscal responsibility” on the nation, the president would. “It keeps me awake at night, looking at all that red ink,” he said. The executive order was signed on February 17.