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."
Sen. Orrin Hatch said the answer to the fiscal crisis is a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, a drum he has banged since being elected to the Senate 35 years ago. His latest attempt to get such a bill passed failed this past week.
"Every time Washington has raised taxes and cut spending in the name of deficit reduction, the tax increases remained but spending did not," he said. "Instead, the higher taxes were used to fuel more spending."
Simpson blames much of the nation's financial mess on voters electing pork-barrel politicians.
"I'd put it on the backs of the good old American public, who for about the last 75 years have been sending people to Congress to bring home the bacon. 'Go get me the dam.' 'Go get me the road.' 'Go get me the airport.' 'Go get a change in the tax code.' 'Go get the monkey off my back,'" he said.
"And now the pig is dead. There's no more bacon to bring home."
The worst possible thing Congress could do at this point, he said, is nothing.
"This cannot be sustained," he said, noting that at the current borrowing rate, $1 trillion a year, will go to interest alone in 15 years.
"That means it doesn't go to anything you like," he said. "It doesn't go anywhere but to some bondholder overseas who's thinking, 'Well, these guys are still stupid. I'll just loan them some more money.'"
Simpson said it's going to take a shared sacrifice the likes of which haven't been seen in the Unites States since World War II to bring the nation's deficit under control.
"You gotta use your guts. You gotta step up to the plate. You gotta quit fooling the American public by giving them b.s. and mush," he said.
And Simpson, who while in the Senate relished and still relishes taking on "phonies," is unapologetic about his notion of how to get the job done.
"At the age of 80, there's a spring in my step because I've finally achieved life's ultimate goal: I've pissed off everybody in America."
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