Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles: Budget Hawks

By Clift, Eleanor | Newsweek, February 13, 2012 | Go to article overview

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles: Budget Hawks


Clift, Eleanor, Newsweek


Byline: Eleanor Clift

The deficit continues to climb. Obama ignored the two men who tried to stop it.

Alan Simpson And Erskine Bowles

When it comes to taking stands that are bound to anger people, former senator Alan Simpson has little competition. He coined the phrase "greedy geezers" when he was urging Social Security reform in Congress, and now that he's out of office and crusading for deficit reduction, he's doubling down on the need to cut entitlements. He's angering seniors and their Democratic patrons, but he's also ticking off his own Republican colleagues by insisting that more tax revenue be part of any budget deal. "I've found that when you get your skin torn off, it grows back double strength," he says, shrugging off the fury directed at him. "Anybody that doesn't take flak isn't a leader."

The 80-year-old Simpson is best known these days as the more colorful half of the Simpson-Bowles commission, which a little more than a year ago produced its report to reform the tax code and reduce the deficit. President Obama, who created the commission, praised the report's balanced approach while doing nothing to advance it. It is widely believed even among Obama's supporters that the president's failure to fully embrace Simpson-Bowles was a huge missed opportunity. "He would have been torn to shreds, so he didn't do it," says Simpson.

Meanwhile, the nation's climbing debt is "a stink bomb you can't romance away," says the former Wyoming senator, who often travels the country with his commission partner, Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, to build support for their plan. "We say, 'Pull up a chair, we don't do bullshit or mush,' and when we're finished, we get a standing ovation." Bowles is a dry, green-eyeshades kind of guy and a perfect complement to Simpson's folksy persona. Notoriously press-shy, Bowles declined an interview even as he pondered his response to calls that he run for governor in his home state of North Carolina.

Simpson says the "nastiest, foulest letters" he gets are from people over 65--"vicious stuff. …

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