Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who was co-chairman of Barack Obama’s bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that the president “walked away” from the issue in his annual State of the Union speech to Congress “because he knew he’d be torn to bits.”
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with former senator and co-chair of the deficit commission, Alan Simpson. Senator Simpson, thank you so much for joining us.
ALAN SIMPSON: It’s a pleasure.
HUNT: The president’s State of the Union, didn’t mention Bowles-Simpson. He appointed the commission. Is he abdicating leadership on this issue?
SIMPSON: He didn’t respond to our commission, and yet we got five Democrats, five Republicans, and one independent, and that’s pretty good bipartisan support, and 60 percent of the commission. He walked away from it because he knew he’d be torn to bits, and he would’ve. So he waited for Paul Ryan to come forward with something, which was to handle the mastodon in the kitchen, which is health care, and watched Ryan get torn to bits and helped with the White House to help tear him to bits. Very sad.
But to go through the State of the Union address and never mention where this country is headed -
HUNT: So he didn’t mention it.
SIMPSON: Didn’t mention it at all. Terrified of it. It will not - he knows that if you - and mention the solvency of Social Security, you can’t raise the retirement age to 68 by the year 2050, and don’t talk about it? No, you don’t dare. You get torn to bits.
HUNT: Well, let me ask you again. Is that abdication?
SIMPSON: Yeah, I did. I said that. I said, when he gave that last speech months ago and never mentioned the solvency of Social Security, I said that’s an abrogation of leadership. The White House came winging right back, as they all do. They’re poised like, you know, nobody - there are guys up there who just wait for somebody to say something so they can stick in their ear within 32 seconds, but they said, well, Simpson, you have to realize we’re going to deal with that separately. It isn’t part of the - of the - of the deficit and the debt. In that sense, it isn’t, but we’re trying to save solvency for itself to save itself.
He didn’t deal with it. He never mentions the flash words, the flash words. He mentioned a bizarre equation. He said we’re going to take the war we’ve saved in Afghanistan and half of that we’ll dedicate to the debt or the deficit. I can’t remember which one he was saying. Well, we already figured that in. That’s already been figured in by everybody that’s been doing their math.
HUNT: Well, on Congress, the supercommittee failed, didn’t do anything. There’s supposed to be something called sequestration, which is automatic cuts. Do you think that they’ll duck that, too? Or you think that’ll take effect -
SIMPSON: Oh, I think if it gets bad enough and howling goes on from the special interest groups - and, boy, are - you know, they laughed when we started this thing.
SIMPSON: I mean, the Realtors and everybody who is involved with anything in the tax code just said, well, these jerks are really - you know, this is laughable. But now they see that it could happen, and I think that the - they may even pass a law to get rid of the sequester. They might just gather together and say, we can get this -
HUNT: You talk about Barack Obama’s abdication on this issue. How about your party, the Republican presidential candidates? Every one of them says no tax cuts at all. Mitt Romney would increase the deficit, his plan, by $180 billion by 2015. Newt Gingrich would give a tax cut of $422,000 average for the top 1 percent. How’s your party handling this -
SIMPSON: Well, that’s a terrible thing to ask. It’s just disgusting that you’d - let me tell you, what got me was to watch all nine of them there months ago, and they said if you got - if you got $9 worth of spending cuts, you needed $1 of revenue, would you vote for it? And almost like robots, these nine hands go up. All of them should have a little mark on the inside, “Grover Norquist Owns Me.”
Because Grover Norquist right now is the most - you - people don’t know who the hell he is, and I think he’d be irrelevant in two years after they see what he’s doing with his bizarre exercise of 95 percent of the Republicans in Congress have signed this thing. Some of them signed it when employment was 4 percent and the deficit was $4 trillion. It’s a lot different now, and they’re repudiating him. I hope they will continue to do that. But then this guy is the most powerful man in the United States of America right now.
HUNT: Does it disappoint you, though, that someone like Mitt Romney, a businessman, a governor, someone who knows these issues, has - has also ducked this issue?
SIMPSON: Well, I’ll tell you. As soon as they get rid of the Iowa primary, the world will be better, because all you have to do in the Iowa primary -
SIMPSON: - or caucus is gather up lesser people than vote in the state of Wyoming, which is the lowest population state in the United States of America, and gather together 50,000 or 58,000 or 60,000. That’s - Wyoming does more than that. And they get together from the right and the left, and they ask - they put up their blood oath.
HUNT: So it doesn’t - but it doesn’t pay to address the deficit issue -
SIMPSON: No. No. You’d be torn to bits, because the AARP will come out and the - and the senior citizens, you’re breaking the bedpans. I mean, this is - this is bizarre. The AARP and Grover Norquist, if they carry the day, if we’re in thrall to them, you ain’t got a prayer.
HUNT: Well, another issue you were instrumental in when you were in the United States Senate was immigration.
HUNT: Does it disappoint you the tone of the Republican debate, including Mitt Romney, who’s leading it, that’s very anti-immigrant?
SIMPSON: They all are, in a sense. It’s a trigger point. And we’re going to be more of a trigger than Florida right now. But, you know, if you have 11 million, or 12 million, or 13 million people in the United States that are here illegally, you going to go hunt for them? I don’t want to be part of a country - and I wasn’t.
HUNT: So are they making a mistake on - are these candidates making a mistake on this issue?
SIMPSON: Not to get elected in Florida.
HUNT: Yeah. But - but long term for the Republican Party?
SIMPSON: Long term, there’s a way to do it, and everybody knows what it is. You give these people some kind of a legal status. You don’t deport all of the 12 million, and you make them pay a fine for creeping in here illegally, and you make them get on a path to citizenship where they have to be productive, and you give them a simple card, and then you get them a green card, and then they can 10 years later be a citizen. We brought 3 million of those people forward the last time.
HUNT: Well, talking about the ‘80s, you were an important senator during the ‘80s. Newt Gingrich says he was central to the Reagan revolution. Do you remember Gingrich playing that kind of a central role in the ‘80s?
SIMPSON: No, but I don’t think Reagan would remember it, either. But I’ll tell you, Dole and I will never forget it, what he did at the Andrews air base, where he - they all made a deal. The Republicans gathered, and they said, here it is. And it’s two-year budgeting, and it’s - we’re dealing with lots of things to stabilize America, but we’re going to have to have some revenue.
And they went to George the first. They said, Mr. President, we need revenue. And George said, well, that’s great, because I’m sure they would remember my “Read my lips,” since George was honest with them to the - to the - to the failure, and they said, “But we can get it. We can get the votes,” and Dole said, “I can deliver a bipartisan package.”
And Newtie said that, too, came to Dole, came over to the Senate. The vote was 66-33. We passed it. Newt went back to the House, said, well, as a member of the group out there, I voted for it, but not now, and - because it calls for new taxes.
And I’m telling you, every Democrat in the House just grinned. You can almost hear them laughing clear over in the Senate chamber, because that was the end of Bush, it was the end of everything, but it was the ascendancy of Newt.
HUNT: And he did it by undercutting?
SIMPSON: It was - it was cheap. Now, if you asked him today why he did that, he will say gravely that he did it because he knew he didn’t want to impose any new taxes on the American public. He saw Bush in the decline, and he saw President Newt rising up through as the grave anti-tax savior now, and, boy, I’ll tell you, he caused us more pain. And everybody that knows him - I understand Dole made some statement recently about it - he was just pure pain. He was Newt first, Republicans second, country third.
HUNT: Alan Simpson, thank you so much for being with us.
SIMPSON: Good to see you, Al.
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