Alan Simpson is a self-proclaimed “ornery bastard.” Spend a few minutes listening to him talk about politics and the budget, and you’ll see why.
Simpson, a Republican and former senator from Wyoming, co-authored the most storied dead-on-arrival report in recent history. With Erskine Bowles, the former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, Simpson penned a plan to reduce the federal debt by $4 trillion through a range of tough spending cuts and tax increases.
The bipartisan Simpson-Bowles debt commission, assembled by President Barack Obama, tabled the plan instead of sending it to Congress for a vote. The White House has essentially ignored the recommendations.
“We’re not disheartened,” Simpson said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “We’ve lit a stink bomb in the garden party, and threw it in there. And let ‘em muck around in it. We’ll see what happens.”
If you want to spend 21 minutes hearing about the debt crisis — in pointed terms and sometimes salty language — go online and listen to my interview with Simpson. Yes, he’s as ornery as he says. He’s as quotable as ever. And he does what too few politicians are willing to do. As the nation stands at what he calls “the crossroads of cowardice and greed,” he calls out everyone with a hand in the crisis:
• Of Grover Norquist, and his no-new tax pledge that hamstrings many congressional Republicans: “What the hell can Grover do to you? He can’t murder you, he can’t burn down your house. The only thing he can do to you is defeat you for re-election.”
• Of groups such as AARP, which have fought changes to programs such as Social Security and Medicare: “(They) make you look like you’re busting bedpans in the hospices and throwing old ladies off of cliffs in wheelchairs."
• Of the current crop in Congress, Simpson expects continued delays — until the financial markets demand action, prompting inflation spikes and increased interest rates. “When the markets call the shots, I’ll betcha a lot of them will turn into statesmen fast.”
One group is spared Simpson’s criticism — and here, I find reason for hope. Simpson says he and Bowles have taken their message to 500,000 Americans over the past two years. They first lay out the case, saying a solution will require big changes in military spending and social programs. Then they take unfiltered questions from the audience. At the end, Simpson says, the audience gives them a standing ovation.
“People are so tired of mush, b.s. and mush. They’re thirsting for someone to tell them the truth.”
It’s fitting that Boise State University’s Andrus Center for Public Policy will honor Simpson next week for results-oriented bipartisanship. If ever an issue called for both, it’s the fiscal crisis. Simpson will speak at 7 p.m. at the BSU Student Union Building’s Jordan Ballroom.
Don’t expect to hear any mush.
‘We have run out of road’
This all brings us to the current Congress — which set aside their partisan differences Thursday and agreed to postpone any real decisions.
In what passes for budgeting, the House voted overwhelmingly to pass a “continuing resolution” that will keep federal agencies in the money and in operation until late March.
It also will, conveniently, allow Congress to delay any serious debates about the budget until after the election. That will also allow Congress — which returned to Capitol Hill only this week, after a five-week recess — to wrap up by early October and focus on campaigning.
Is it any wonder the bill passed the House 329-91? Is there any doubt that this stopgap will fly through the Senate? As even Alan Simpson said Friday, “Why sit there and look like a nut?”
That was, I must add here, a general statement on his part — and not a direct statement about Idaho Republican Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson, who voted against the plan.
Simpson, a House Appropriations subcommittee chair, issued a strongly worded news release ripping the deal.
“Let me be clear, shutting down the government is not an option,” he said. “But making it a regular practice to fund government operations through continuing resolutions is also an abdication of Congress’ oversight responsibilities. I’m frustrated that Congress has become satisfied with simply kicking the can down the road. We have run out of road. It’s time to stop hiding our heads in the sand and start addressing the challenges facing our country.”
So here are the options.
1. Vote no. Congress isn’t going to risk, and run on, the unintended consequences of a government shutdown. As a result, voting no is a lonely protest vote.
2. Vote yes, and postpone dealing with the crisis.
It’s a shame governing has ceased to be among the options.