The Republican co-chairman of the presidential panel tasked with finding ways to cut the deficit took a liberal activist to task last week for raising red flags about Social Security meddling -- in a viral video that some groups are now using to try and discredit the blunt-talking official.
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson pulled no punches during his exchange with Alex Lawson, an activist with Social Security Works. The eight-minute video shot outside the meeting room of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform showed a testy Simpson repeatedly uttering curse words at Lawson and referring to Social Security recipients as "lesser people."
That remark was used by some blogs and organizations to portray Simpson as "condescending." But groups like MoveOn.org, which is trying to gather signatures calling for his resignation, also claimed the video proved Simpson's commitment to slashing Social Security -- even though Simpson explained at length that he's not doing that.
"Simpson is joining with the other right-wing ideologues on the 'deficit commission' to find a way to cut Social Security for those 'lesser people' -- even though Social Security hasn't caused the deficit," MoveOn says in a memo announcing the campaign to oust Simpson. "Someone with Senator Simpson's disdainful attitude and ideological commitment to cutting Social Security has no business serving in this powerful position. This video shows it's time for him to resign."
But Simpson spent the better half of the video trying to refute that charge. He repeatedly accused the reporter of using "flash words" and spewing "crap" to stir up a liberal audience.
"We're trying to take care of the lesser people in society like we always have in this country and do that in a way without getting into all the flash words that you love dig up, like cutting Social Security, which is bull---t. We're not cutting anything ... we're trying to make it solvent," Simpson said at the beginning of the argument, accusing the report of "babbling" when he interrupted.
"We're not cutting -- we're not balancing the budget on the backs of seniors. That's bull---t," he said.
After Lawson made the point that raising the retirement age amounts to an "across-the-board benefit cut," Simpson accused the reporter of giving undue attention to one option out of many.
"There are 15 different options being discussed in here today, and why nail one of them if you would like to get one -- get the one that pisses your people off," he said.
Simpson's prediction held true. The video surged across the Internet, getting picked up on several liberal blogs and reviving fears about the work of the deficit commission. Interest groups have been sounding the alarm for weeks that the commission could start hacking away at Social Security benefits in the name of closing the budget gap, and the video was used to bolster that point.
Those concerned about Social Security cuts argue that the fund has been solvent for decades and did not contribute to the deficit. They say the $2.5 trillion surplus credited to the Social Security Trust Fund, along with the interest on that money, should render any big cuts to Social Security unnecessary even though the entitlement program is expected to pay out more than it takes in this year.
But Simpson and others say that because the federal government has borrowed against the trust fund's surplus for so long, all that's left are IOU's -- and to redeem them would mean more borrowing.
"There is no surplus in there. It's a bunch of IOUs," Simpson told Lawson in the video.