If you haven't seen this video yet, you should. Jane Hamsher's put it up at FDL, Dave Johnson's got it up at Our Future, and I've shown it on The Huffington Post. Alan Simpson of Wyoming sounds a lot more like Bart Simpson of Springfield in it - except without the humor. It's worth watching for sheer outrageousness, but remember: Simpson's one of two chairs of a bipartisan commission created by President Obama to study the Federal deficit.
His co-chair, the Democratic "counterweight" to Simpson's radical hostility toward the social safety net, is Erskine Bowles. Bowles was finalizing a deal with New Gingrich to cut Social Security when the Monica Lewinsky scandal derailed their agreement.
Here's what Simpson's comments reveal, besides an irascible personality: That he wants to create a sense of crisis around Social Security, that raiding Social Security to pay for other government expenditures is perfectly fine with him ... even though he's supposedly a "small government" conservative, that he's entered an Orwellian world where cutting Social Security isn't really "cutting" it, and that he'll use absurd rhetorical games to defend his position.
As you watch it, you'll see that Alex Lawson, Simpson's questioner, is well-informed, unfailingly polite, and a nice guy. Simpson, on the other hand, is raving like your drunken right-wing uncle at a Thanksgiving dinner gone wrong. What's he really saying here?
SIMPSON (regarding Social Security): It'll go broke in 2037.
LAWSON: What do you mean by 'broke'? Do you mean the surplus will go out and then it will only be able to pay 75% of its benefits?
SIMPSON: Just listen to me instead of babbling ...
Simpson then goes on to affirm Lawson's statement (without apology, of course.) But he resumes the fearmongering a minute later:
SIMPSON: ... There is not enough in the system by the month ... to pay out what comes in. In other words there is more going out than coming in. That happened 3 or 4 weeks ago.
LAWSON: ... Social Security is separate, though, from the general budget, right? It's totally in the green.
SIMPSON: But it wasn't. Just four weeks ago, there wasn't as much coming in as going out.
LAWSON: Except you're not calculating the interest paid on the bonds, because, if you do include that, it's still in the green this year.
SIMPSON: Well you can go through all the sophistry of babbling that you want to.
LAWSON: It's not sophistry. It's just what the SSA says. So I'm just going on the numbers.
Alex is absolutely right, and Simpson's the one engaging in sophistry - if by "sophistry" you mean, to use Simpson's word, "bulls**t." And it's fascinating to watch Simpson suddenly defend big government expenditures, even when (make that only when) people's own insurance payments - money they've paid to cover their retirement is borrowed and then left unpaid:
LAWSON: ... (W)hat about the $180 billion in surplus that (Social Security) brings in every year?
SIMPSON: There is no surplus in there. It's a bunch of IOUs.
LAWSON: That's what I wanted to actually get at.
SIMPSON: Listen. Listen. It's 2.5 trillion bucks in IOUs which have been used to build the interstate highway system and all of the things people have enjoyed since it has been setup.
LAWSON: Two wars, tax cuts for the wealthy.
SIMPSON: Whatever, whatever. You pick your crap and I'll pick the real stuff. It has to do with the highway system, it was to run America. And those are IOUs in there. And now there is not enough coming in every month ...
Simpson asserts that Social Security wasn't originally intended to pay for people so far into retirement because life expectancy was low in 1935, when SSI was created. That's true ... but the program's been modified since then to adjust for increased life expectancy. That leads to this whopper:
LAWSON: ---(I)t's my understanding from actually looking at the 1983 commission (which revamped Social Security), they actually started prefunding the retirement of the baby boom by building up that huge surplus.
SIMPSON: They never knew there was a baby boom in '83.
Really? They didn't there was a baby boom ... in 1983?? They didn't know how many babies had been born in the years 1948-1964? Here's the real reason Alan Simpson says outrageously false things like that:
Here's the bottom line. Simpson doesn't want to force the government to pay those bonds back, because it will probably require new taxes to pay for them. The Commission's likely to recommend some new taxes, but the Simpson crowd wants those increases to be a small as possible. Here's an example of that ideology in action:
LAWSON: The government doesn't actually own the bonds, it's the government owing...
SIMPSON: Let me say things in a way so your fans will understand this, so you can go and be a hero. There is not enough in the system ... So, what do they do? They go to that trust fund and say, 'We need the IOUs out of it.' And they say, 'You can have them, but you have to pay for them' ...
Paying for them ... which means more taxes ... is exactly what Simpson and his comrades don't want.
There's more - you can read the entire transcript at Jane's place or read a longer version of this post here. But you get the idea. Alan Simpson isn't just a cranky old man ... he's a cranky old man gunning for the financial security of older Americans.
And we're all going to be older Americans, if we're lucky enough to live that long.