Published December 23, 2015
President Obama's calls for a five-year freeze on discretionary spending, as well as Republican demands to turn back the budget clock to 2008 spending, will save "peanuts" and do nothing to turn around the country's "sacrosanct" entitlement culture, one head of the president's deficit commission said Sunday.
Former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, who was appointed by Obama along with former Bill Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles to lead the president's panel for reducing the nation's debt, said leaving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on auto pilot will crush the U.S. economy.
"I'm waiting for the politician to get up and say, there's only one way to do this, you dig into the big four, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and defense. And anybody giving you anything different than that, you want to walk out the door, stick your finger down your throat and give them the green weenie," Simpson said on CNN's "State of the Union."
Simpson, whose deficit reduction proposal was rejected in December by a supermajority of the 18-member panel appointed to propose debt reduction recommendations to a stalled Congress, said anyone claiming that fixing entitlements is the same as privatizing Social Security is strictly out for political gain.
"These jerks who keep dragging that up are lying. We never suggested that. We're talking about doing a hideous thing, to change the retirement age to 68 by the year 2050. And hear people howl and bitch about that. Well, what do they care about their kids or their grandkids?" he asked.
"If you don't do anything with Social Security when you waddle up to get your check in the year 2037, you'll get 22 percent less," he added.
Simpson has been a rare -- if not, distinctive -- voice in the effort to include entitlements and defense spending in talks on reducing the size of the annual budget and decreasing the nation's $14 trillion-plus debt.
That debt level is expected to reach a congressionally imposed limit by April, and without approval to lift the ceiling, the country will default. While Republican leaders in the House say they won't allow that to happen, they are tying new budgetary processes to any debt increase.
"If the president wants our help to pay off his debts, he's going to have to begin the process of cutting up the credit cards. In other words, we need major spending cuts and major spending reforms," Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, the No. 4 Republican in the House, said Saturday in the Republican radio address.
Hensarling added that where the president wants to increase "investment" or "stimulus" spending by the government, Republicans have started cutting -- by getting rid of the health care law, voting to end taxpayer funding of presidential campaigns, cutting the congressional budget and earmark process and proposing billions in spending cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Simpson calls that tiddlywinks.
"The next time you hear any politician, in the range of my lovely voice, mellifluous voice, croaking -- if you have a career politician get up and say, 'I know we can get this done; we're going to get rid of all earmarks, all waste, fraud, and abuse, all foreign aid, Air Force One, all congressional pensions,' that's a sparrow's belch in the midst of a typhoon. That's about six, eight, 10 percent of where we are," Simpson said.
The former senator said defense spending also can no longer be a sacred cow. Simpson said the panel asked the Defense Department about cutting contractors and learned that the Pentagon doesn't even know how many contractors it has.
"It's something between 250,000 and a million. So our proposal is to cut 250,000 contractors out of the game," Simpson said.
He added that Americans are just as guilty as lawmakers for allowing the budget to get out of hand.
"They sent these people in Washington to bring home the bacon. ... They elected these people who could get them the dam, who could get them the new money, who could get them the downtown redevelopment, who could get them more and more and more, and they re-elected them every time," he said.
"Let me tell you, that commission, I respect every one of them completely and we all agree that deficit denial is dead as a dodo bird. And if they want to keep playing the violin, well, deficits mean nothing, well, I'll buy the drinks," he added.