Alan Simpson, Fiscal Commission Co-Chairman, Eager For A Fight

11/19/2010 12:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Alan Simpson, the notoriously loud-mouthed co-chair of President Obama's fiscal commission, delightedly predicted on Friday morning that the new freshman class of congressional Republicans will close down the government rather than agree to further increase the national debt limit.

"This is going to be beautiful politics -- the brutal kind. I love those," said Simpson. "The debt limit... will prove who's a hero, who's a jerk, and who's a charlatan, and who's a fakir."

The nation's debt limit, now $14.3 trillion, will likely be reached in early 2011. If Congress doesn't raise it, the government would no longer be able to borrow money, forcing it into default.

Calling members of the incoming class "sharp cookies," Simpson predicted they would refuse to vote for the debt limit extension unless they got significant spending cuts in return. The threat that the government would close down will not impede them, he said. "They'll say: 'That's what I came here for.'"

Simpson said he's looking forward to it. "I can't wait. It'll be something. And I'll be watching."

By contrast, incoming House Speaker John Boehner is reported to be counseling the incoming class that they need to cool their jets on the debt limit issue. "We're going to have to deal with it as adults," he told reporters this week. "Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part."

Simpson, along with fellow fiscal commission co-chair Erskine Bowles, was speaking to reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

The co-chairmen last week released their personal suggestions for cutting the federal budget deficit.

Both Simpson and Bowles seemed to delight in the howls that greeted their plan.

"It's a great place to be, because we have irritated hopefully everyone in the United States and especially the groups," Simpson said. He likened the attacks by interest groups to "harpies off the cliff" with "talons extended."

Bowles didn't disagree. "As Alan said, we've laid that stink bomb out there now."

Earlier this week another group of deficit hawks, this one from the Bipartisan Policy Center and led by former Republican Senator Pete Domenici and former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Alice Rivlin, put forth a competing plan.

Simpson and Bowles both took swipes at it.

Among the difference between the two plans, Simpson-Bowles would increase the retirement age for Social Security, while Domenici-Rivlin would "index" the benefit formula "for increases in life expectancy."

"What we did," Bowles said, "is exactly the same arithmetically... But because we're transparent and we're telling the truth.. we got dinged."

"Theirs is mysterious opaqueness," said Simpson.

Bowles pointed out that the retirement age under their plan wouldn't go up to 69 for another 65 years, saying "I think that gives people a good amount of time to prepare."

A GAO report leaked this week concluded that raising the retirement age for Social Security would disproportionately hurt low-income workers and minorities,

The chairmen also mocked the Domenici-Rivlin plan for including a new nationwide sales tax.

"We got a little message," Bowles said, referring to an April "sense of the Senate" resolution against any kind of consumption tax, which passed 85 to 13.

"If you want to run into that wall, you must be goofy," Simpson said.

Simpson predicted that rather than being adopted all at once, various deficit reduction proposals will get passed by Congress one at a time, over a period of years, although he suggested that the first bill could end up being "so watered down you could gum it."

Bowles said elected officials will come around. "I think the world's changed. I think they're going to be heavily penalized if they don't make the tough choices."

And he gushed over the assembled members of the mainstream media for their part in promoting deficit hawkery. "The era of deficit denial is over. You all made it over," he said.

The chairmen said their proposal is just a starting point for negotiations among the 18 members of the commission. The commission has a December 1 deadline for its report, and all official proposals must get 14 votes.

And they praised Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), one of the few actual liberals on the commission, for drafting a comprehensive proposal of her own -- even though Bowles called it "the opposite of ours."

Bowles in particular warned of doom if the deficit is not addressed, predicting a brutal reaction from the financial markets at some point in the future along with hyperinflation. "We won't have the capital to fund our military," he warned. And if the debt continues to grow, he said, "pretty soon you have no money left for anything else."

Bowles said the reason the financial markets haven't abandoned America already -- and they haven't; interest rates on federal bonds are at an all-time low -- is "because we're the best- looking horse in the glue factory right now."

Earlier in the day, Simpson ridiculed one of his foremost conservative critics, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, for calling on Republicans to oppose the fiscal commission chair's proposal on grounds that it was a tax increase.

To those who just wish the commission would go away, Simpson had one bit of good news: "That's exactly what we're going to do December 2."

WATCH Simpson talk about the debt limit:


Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.


Alan Simpson