September 5, 2010


America has a cow over Alan Simpson's candor on deficits (Dana Milbank, September 5, 2010, Washington Post)

In a larger sense, the outrage only confirmed that Simpson's simile was spot on. If the commission does its job right, it will recommend cuts across the government -- the Pentagon, social programs, entitlements, veterans' benefits -- as well as tax increases. That's the only way to solve the debt mess. Special-interest groups on the left and right, the real sucklings at the public teat, don't want this to happen -- so they derailed the effort in Congress to name a commission and now want to discredit Obama's version.

The latest attempt came this week, again directed at the painfully blunt Simpson, who dared to question the expansion of veterans' disability benefits to cover illnesses not necessarily related to their military service. "The irony," Simpson told the Associated Press, is "that the veterans who saved this country are now, in a way, not helping us to save the country in this fiscal mess."

Again, outrage rained from the critics (including, tellingly, some of those who objected to the "tits" remark). The Veterans of Foreign Wars protested that it "believes in fiscal responsibility, but veterans' programs are sacrosanct."

Simpson, an Army veteran, is again correct. If vets are sacrosanct, Social Security is sacrosanct, low taxes are sacrosanct and everything else is sacrosanct, we'll have a whole herd of sacred cows and an economy like Greece's.

The folksy and salty Simpson, who turned 79 years old on Thursday and stands 79 inches tall, has long been one of my favorites in politics. As somebody known to cause offense with the occasional turn of phrase, I think he deserves some slack when he speaks about "greedy geezers" -- and when, in arguing for limiting Social Security to those who need it, he decries retirees who "live in gated communities and drive their Lexus to the Perkins restaurant to get the AARP discount." He should get credit for being colorful, provocative and honest in an arena that discourages all three.

In 2006, I wrote about Simpson when he returned to town, nine years after his retirement from the Senate, to scold Republicans for having "rocks for brains" because they refused to work with Democrats. "In politics," he said, "there are no right answers, only a continuing flow of compromises among groups, resulting in a changing, cloudy and ambiguous series of public decisions where appetite and ambition compete openly with knowledge and wisdom."

Simpson is exactly the right man for the debt commission: a dealmaker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 5, 2010 8:52 AM
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