Leon Panetta, formerly my Congressman and later the holder of various high appointments in the Clinton and Obama administrations (head of OMB and later Chief of White House Staff under Clinton and Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense under Obama) has a local institute named after him that has 4 events every spring. In other years, the events are held in person. This year they were on Zoom. I “attended” the last of the four last night.

The event was in two parts. In the first 45 minutes, Leon questioned former Vice-President Dan Quayle and former President Bill Clinton on various issues. In the second 45 minutes Leon asked his guests questions that various attendees had written and submitted.

There were some interesting highlights.

Quayle had some of the funniest lines and some good political analysis and Clinton had what seemed to be good political analysis and was weak on economics.

In discussing Israel, Quayle said, “The Israeli government is almost as dysfunctional as ours.” Clinton laughed and applauded. It was a pretty funny moment.

In discussing the future of the Republican Party, it was hard to ignore the elephant in the room, Donald Trump. Quayle didn’t. But he did say that when it came to predicting what Donald Trump would do, he was batting 0 for 4. First, he had predicted that Trump wouldn’t beat Jeb Bush. Then he predicted that Trump wouldn’t win the nomination. Then he predicted that Trump would lose to Hilary Clinton. Finally he predicted that Trump would be molded by the presidency.

On Liz Cheney, Quayle pointed out that the Republicans had accepted her even after she voted to impeach Trump. “But I don’t know what her end game is.”

Clinton pointed out something that I found depressing about Republican voters, although a check of the facts this morning tells me that Clinton left out a lot out. Clinton said that South Carolina congressman Bob Inglis had had a 95% conservative voting record but had lost in the 2010 primary to Trey Gowdy over 2 issues: (1) Inglis believed in climate change but thought you should use market methods to deal with it (Clinton was unclear what those methods were) and (2) Inglis insisted that Barack Obama was U.S. born and a Christian, not a Muslim. A search of the Wikipedia entry on Inglis, though, shows that some other issues were relevant too. For example, he voted for the bailout. Clinton spinning? Hard to believe.

Here’s the question I wrote out and submitted:

Given the huge budget deficits we have now and in our future, and given that all 3 of you have cared about that, what major steps would you recommend for cutting the growth of spending? Be specific about spending programs.

Virtually all the submitted questions that Leon asked were about politics. But right at the end, he asked a question that seemed to be based on mine. Of course he did it his way, which is his absolute right. He asked what they would do about the deficit, both on the spending and on the revenue side.

Quayle led by pointing out how little Trump had cared about the deficit and highlighted his sudden desire to give each person $2,000 instead of $800 (Quayle didn’t remember that the number had been $600, a forgivable mistake.) He said that Republicans seemed not to care about deficits any more but that they should. He said that Social Security would be relatively straightforward to rein in by gradually raising the age at which people could get full benefits and by raising the cap below which earnings are taxed. (I assume he meant raising it more than it already is raised each year.) Medicare, he said, was a much tougher problem.

That’s too bad, because we know that a Social Security recipient values a dollar of benefit at one dollar, whereas a user of Medicare typically values a dollar of Medicare spending at much less than one dollar. So for a given reduction in spending, the cut that would hurt retirees less would be some kind of cost-sharing in Medicare, not a decrease in the rate of growth of Social Security spending.

Quayle then said that we are unlikely to confront this until we hit a crisis.

Clinton surprised me. He said he was more optimistic than Quayle and that a lot of the proposed spending in the infrastructure bill would be very productive and that that would make things better and then the deficits wouldn’t be so worrisome, or so big, or something. At least that’s what I think he said.