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A Second Look At Last Year's Deficit Reduction Plan


The failure of the congressional supercommittee to reach a deal on reducing federal government deficits is being called another example of dysfunction in Washington, D.C. New attention is now focused back on the plan put forth last year by President Obama's bipartisan Deficit Reduction Commission, a blueprint that a number of Democrats and Republicans endorsed. Yesterday, we spoke with Alan Simpson, the former Republican Senator from Wyoming who served as co-chairman of that committee, and asked him why this supercommittee ended in such a super failure.

ALAN SIMPSON: Well, what happened was it was almost loaded for failure. Don't forget, four of the people who were put on the 12 were on our commission and voted against it then. So, I mean, you've got to figure if four of them voted against it in the first go with the commission that Erskine Boles and I co-chaired that they probably weren't going to change their position on the 12. So, there you loaded the commission with a third of it destined for failure. But what happened, the same old story - taxes and entitlements.

SIMON: Well, senator, let me follow-up with you on the matter of taxes, 'cause, of course, you're a lifelong Republican.


SIMON: The Democrats reportedly offered their Republican colleagues on this commission a package nearly identical to the Boles-Simpson plan but it called for only half as much in new taxes. As you note, Republicans still said no. Now, nobody likes taxes, but try to help us understand why so many Republicans are so staunchly opposed.

SIMPSON: Well, you've got Grover Norquist, and he got 95 percent of the Republicans to sign a pledge that under no circumstances that they would ever raise taxes, quote, "without a corresponding cut." Now, he got most of them to sign up, you know, 10, 15 years ago. He is very, very powerful, but what can he do to you? The only thing he can do to you is defeat you for reelection. And if that means more to you than your country and your vote when your country is an extremity, you shouldn't even be in Congress.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you about the man who under the Constitution is supposed to be the most powerful person in America, the president of the United States, President Obama. Has he been enough of a leader on this issue?

SIMPSON: No. And it's disappointing. Let me tell you, I worked with Clinton. I enjoyed Clinton a lot. Had fun with him; he never broke his word. George the first, dear friend; Reagan, Carter, I respected those people and I obviously have a feeling of this is my president and I accepted the role here of co-chair. But he's just sat it out. He left the country when Erskine and I turned in this report. But he did so because if he knew that if he put it out there he would be torn to shreds, which he would have been, by his base. So, he waited. And Paul Ryan, he said, look, if the mastodon in the kitchen is Medicare, then I'm going to deal with Medicare. And it is on automatic pilot. It doesn't matter whether you call it Obamacare, Elvis Presley care, I don't care care - it can't work, can't possibly work unless be absolutely honest about that. And so Ryan puts that in and got torn to shreds largely by the White House. So, it's interesting work and it's called politics and it's in full force. But I've never seen it more vicious, I've never seen it more hostile. The word compromise apparently means you're a total wimp if you're a compromiser. The other thing is, for heaven sakes, there are 82 new people who didn't come to govern. They don't care about governing. They care about destroying government.

SIMON: Senator Simpson, is another downgrading of the U.S. credit rating at hand?

SIMPSON: Well, Dick Durbin, give him a lot of credit - he voted for our package. Dick kept asking, where is the tipping point? Now, the tipping point - no need to bring a chart or a PowerPoint with you, you don't know when it comes. And when it comes, it will be swift and it will be the money guys calling the shots. If they say we're going to downgrade you, there's no question but inflation will go up and interest rates will go up and guess who gets hurt the worst? The little guy.

SIMON: You sound frustrated, as frustrated as I've ever heard anybody in a position of influence.

SIMPSON: I'm an American citizen first. I always felt that the party was second to anything I ever did. And so it is frustrating. But I'm more saddened than anything else to see people who worship their party above their role as a U.S. citizen, not a member of the NRA or the AFL-CIO or the AARP or the Teachers - whatever. What the hell is this? And that's where the bearings have come off the wheel and the wheel has come off the car.

SIMON: Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson speaking with us from Cody, Wyoming. Thanks very much.

SIMPSON: It was a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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