Try to save the nation from the approaching crisis of unsustainable spending on Social Security and Medicare, and the demagogues will come at you with the lie of how you would force poor, old Joe to eat dog food. Or, more imaginatively, they may show a video of granny meeting her end as someone shoves her wheelchair off a cliff. Some reformers then may hide, but not Alan Simpson. He fights back.
Simpson is the former Republican senator from Wyoming who co-chaired President Barack Obama's bipartisan deficit and debt commission with Erskine Bowles, a White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. The two made some superb recommendations to cut spending (Democrats booed) and reform taxes (Republicans booed) only to be mostly ignored by politicians putting career before country or failing to grasp that no compromise meant no solution.
Simpson and Bowles were especially able in figuring out a way to avert Social Security's suicidal trajectory through gradually slowing the growth in benefits without reducing current benefits. They would also slowly raise retirement ages as well as have the best-off among us contribute more to payroll taxes, but no, no, many times no to all of this, screeched some firebrands.
The vitriol caught on. When Simpson was recently in Oakland, Calif., a seniors group, California Alliance for Retired Americans, handed out flyers saying, "Bowles! Simpson! Stop using the deficit as a phony excuse to gut our Social Security!" Simpson wrote the group a letter, not just any letter, but an endlessly quotable letter taking special umbrage at the flyers' photos of young people. These are the ones, he said, who would "get gutted while you continue to push your blather and drivel."
"What a wretched group of seniors you must be to use the faces of the very people we are trying to save while the 'greedy geezers' like you use them as a tool and a front for your nefarious bunch of crap."
Simpson made it clear he had little use for those who use "emotion" on the issue while grasping little if anything about ominous predictions by Social Security trustees or what was in the Simpson-Bowles report. As they nastily attacked the 80-year-old ex-senator, leftists responded that he sure was vicious to these old people.
I support him. Sure, he could have been cooler, more civil, but being a pussycat is no longer acceptable when so many agitate so successfully on the side of ruination. Entitlement spending is a tipping point issue, one that could visit catastrophe on us, as was observed in precise arithmetical terms this month in a report from the Congressional Budget Office.
It said deficits over the past few years have been the highest since World War II. By the end of this year, the federal government's publicly held debt will amount to 70 percent of the economy, the highest since 1945, the year after the war. Without significant policy changes, the CBO worried, the debt will keep going up drastically and investors could get so nervous that they would jack up interest rates beyond the government's ability to borrow. That would be run-for-the-exits time.
Because of the aging of the baby boomers, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are chief culprits here, the CBO explained, predicting their cost could grow from some 10 percent of the economy today to 16 percent in another 25 years. For the past 40 years, the CBO notes, total federal spending has been just 18.5 percent of the economy.
As early as 13 years down the road, the CBO has previously stated, health entitlements, Social Security and increasing interest payments on growing debt could consume all tax revenues.
These are the sorts of outcomes those seniors in Oakland would confer on the nation with their ideas, which include expanding Social Security, and they have loads of company.
Let's the rest of us join Simpson in fighting the wretches.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com