Simpson hawks debt reduction plan with straight talk, colorful language

Utah delegation gives ideas mixed reviews

Published: Saturday, Dec. 17 2011 3:00 p.m. MST

Erskine Bowles, left, accompanied by former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of President Barack Obama's bipartisan deficit commission, take part in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010.

Alex Brandon, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Alan Simpson gets a standing ovation wherever he speaks.

Audiences across the country applaud the straight-talking former Wyoming senator's take on what needs to be done to reduce the $15 trillion and counting national debt. He and former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles forged an ambitious plan last year to cut the $4 trillion from the deficit over 10 years.

But lawmakers in Washington never embraced the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan, leaving it on the shelf to gather dust. Republicans objected to the tax changes and many Democrats balked at the changes in Social Security and Medicare.

Still, Simpson and Bowles, who co-chaired President Barack Obama's deficit commission, continue to sound the alarm.

"It's like a stink bomb at a garden party. It ain't gonna go away. It's still out there. Sixty-seven pages and it's in English and they can't duck it," Simpson told the Deseret News.

The package contains tax reform, such as a 15-cent per gallon gas tax, massive spending cuts, controlling health care costs, reducing entitlements, eliminating earmarks and trimming the federal workforce. No program is spared from the budget knife including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and defense.

The Simpson-Bowles report, unveiled a year ago this month, is one of several deficit reduction plans floated in Washington. None have gained much traction.

Obama and Congress formed a bipartisan "super committee" in August to hammer out a 10-year, $1.5 trillion debt reduction deal. But it announced last month that it failed to reach an agreement. As a result, automatic across-the-board spending cuts are scheduled to begin in January 2013.

"If you hear someone get up and say, 'We can do this without Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense,' just get up and give them a horse whap. You can't get there without dealing with the four engines that are driving this," Simpson said, just getting warmed up during a telephone interview.

"Don't tell us we're balancing the budget on the backs of poor old seniors, that we can't cut the defense budget or that we'll hollow out the forest. Medicare? Hell, you can call it Obamacare, Elvis Presley care or I don’t care. It can't work."

The Simpson-Bowles report received mixed reviews from members of Utah's congressional delegation.

"Nobody is going to like everything in the Simpson-Bowles plan," said Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

But, he said, the report might be more relevant now since the super committee failed. "I think it's still very much in the zone of discussion in terms of how to address the issue," he said.

Matheson called it a template that lays out all the issues that need to be on the table to achieve significant deficit reduction.

"The problem in Congress is both parties have things they won't put on the table. Both parties aren’t being genuine negotiators," he said.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he likes that the plan is a bipartisan effort that looks seriously at spending cuts. But he doesn't like the suggestion of tax increases.

"That portion of the Simpson-Bowles report that encouraged tax rate increases, I think, is shortsighted and overlooks the fact that history has taught us that we can't collect more than a little over 18 percent of GDP through our income tax system," he said.

High marginal tax rates lower economic output and growth and generate less revenue over the long haul, he said.

"I don't think we have a revenue problem that can be fixed through tax increases," Lee said. "I think we have a spending problem."

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