Everything That Is Wrong With Simpson-Bowles
Everything that's wrong with how we are currently discussing the country's economic situation can be summed up in two words — Simpson-Bowles. (It can also be summed up in three words — Meet The Press — but that's another topic for another day.) The president made several huge blunders in setting up the Simpson-Bowles commission in the first place, the most obvious being the exhumation of Alan Simpson, whose only obvious contribution to American politics was to be, to paraphrase what Diane Keaton says in Manhattan, Bob Dole without the wit. Most famously, Simpson was one of the premier players in the sliming of Anita Hill in the service of installing Clarence Thomas onto the Supreme Court. But, somehow, in the bizarre confabulations of the Beltway, Simpson was reckoned to be a charming old grump who was willing to trade barbs with Robert Reich, so that somehow made him bipartisan. But the republic was luxuriating in Simpson's blessed irrelevance until the president inexplicably chose to pair him with Erskine Bowles to run a debt commission. Simpson promptly reminded the nation what a giant of human reason he actually is, and why he always got the feature spot on open mic night at the Congressional Chuckle Hut.
In an e-mail this week to Ashley Carson, executive director of the National Older Women's League (OWL), Simpson compared Social Security to "a milk cow with 310 million [teats]!" Only he didn't say "teats" but something similar, and shall we say, a bit more colorful and perhaps derogatory. And he concluded by telling Ms. Carson to "call when you get honest work!"
This was while he was co-chairman of the committee seeking a "balanced approach" to the alleged crisis of our national debt, mind you.
The commission crashed and burned, although you would never know it from the cargo cult that has sprung up around it within our political elites. It produced a "plan" that so many members of the commission hated that the "plan" never really was submitted to Congress. Every single Republican on the commission walked away from it. It was a thoroughly rotten deal for poor people and for the middle class, the living embodiment of Alan Simpson's obvious contempt for everyone who is not him, as a number of progressive politicians pointed out. Undaunted, Simpson and Bowles pretended that their "plan" actually was a working document. It was a remarkable act of political faith-healing and, over the past couple of years, the "plan" that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone of the pitch for "bipartisan" "compromise. Senator Richard Durbin,supposedly one of the lead progressive voices in the Senate, can't shut up about the bloody thing. And now, America's fun couple is out there pitching their non-existent "plan" personally. The unfortunate opening lines here are a reason to drive nails through your head.
Theirs is an improbable buddy act that is making for unlikely entertainment from campuses to corporations on a most serious subject: the federal debt. The proof of their appeal: some business groups pay them $40,000 each per appearance. Really. To discuss budgets and baselines. Ladies and gentlemen, coming soon to your city or town (if they have not been there already, and maybe even if they have) are the latest odd couple of politics: the 67-year-old Democratic straight man, Erskine B. Bowles of Charlotte, N.C., and his corny 81-year-old, 6-foot-7 Republican sidekick, Alan K. Simpson of Cody, Wyo.
Only in the funhouse mirror that is the Beltway media are these two guys an "improbable buddy act." Only in that same mirror are they an "odd couple." (And the fact that "business groups" pay them 40-grand a pop proves nothing except the fact the two of them shouldn't be trusted as far as you can throw Lloyd Blankfein's desk.) Both of them are tools of the financial power that has come to be the ruination of the nation's economy and is more than halfway toward ruining the nation's democracy as well. For example, the nation's tattered social safety net is in as much danger from the two of them as it is from the outright zombie-eyed granny-starver, Paul Ryan, who personally walked away from the Simpson-Bowles "plan" because not enough grannies were being starved. Bowles just wants to hand the entire social insurance system over to his financial masters. (He's one of the masterminds behind the Fix The Debt scam by which we are supposed to believe that a passel of avaricious CEOs have the country's best interests at heart.) The financial elites, for whom Erskine Bowles would run the Iditarod if you put him in harness, loved it, which should have been a warning to everyone. Simpson hates the people who depend on the programs. But one of them is a lot taller than the other one so — bipartisanship! The plan lives!
While the support was greater than expected, it was short of the 14 votes needed to force immediate action in Congress. The executive director, Bruce Reed, now chief of staff to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., urged the chairmen to soldier on. "Together we decided, Let's don't let this thing die," Mr. Bowles said. "Bruce convinced Al and me that the plan we put together could be the gold standard." They quickly raised money, including from Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire financier of antideficit efforts, to keep a small staff. They began working with the bipartisan "Gang of Six" senators (now eight) to write the report into legislation - "the Cialis project," Mr. Bowles privately joked, borrowing from the advertising slogan for an erectile dysfunction drug, "When the moment is right, will you be ready?"
Well, since the whole enterprise is dedicated to old guys out to screw people, the name is apt, if nothing else.
It is everything that has been wrong with this enterprise from the start. It is an exercise in Beltway wankery that hasn't even bothered to pause to estimate the human cost of the deal it is seeking to foist on the American people. (And of which Alan Simpson is indecently contemptuous.) It traffics in the spurious notion that any deal with which ""both sides" are angry must be the right deal. (Can we please have an honest assessment of credibility here? If billionaires are angry because they might have to chip in some boutonniere money on April 15, and a middle-class family is angry because their 82-year old grandmother with Alzheimer's is lying in her own filth in a substandard nursing home because of Medicare "reforms," are we honestly saying that the anger of both sides is equally justified? Has anyone even asked that question?) It is the product of a heedless national elite so insulated from the consequences of its actions, and so coddled by a feckless national political media, that its actions are seen to have no consequences that matter once you cross the Potomac. (I'd have felt better about the whole deal if there were one nurse, one urban health-director, one social-worker on the entire commission.) The primary constituencies upon whom this "plan" will fall hardest were not even represented in its development, and they do not seem to factor in at all in the effort to implement it. The whole debate is taking place in a bell jar of unreality. Only there could Simpson and Bowles be seen as honest brokers, and only there could their "plan" be seen as anything except a new front in the steady looting of the national wealth, a "compromise" between lions and sheep.
And Alan Simpson is not funny. Never has been.