WASHINGTON -- Say what you will about the actual policy proposals put forth by the chairs of the president's fiscal commission -- both former Senator Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles certainly enjoy agitating their observers.
Calling for an increase in the retirement age for Social Security -- when the entitlement program is solvent until 2037 and contributes nothing to the debt -- was bold and bound to irritate progressives. And the two have basically reveled in the animosity they've engendered from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and others.
But Bowles and Simpson have been equal opportunity offenders as well. And on Friday morning the Wyoming Republican 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.
"Every penny -- every buck we spend, we're borrowing 41 cents," said Simpson, during an appearance on "Morning Joe". "And that's what I tell them. And then they go, 'Well, I didn't know that'. I mean, you can come in here -- you can come in here with your no taxes, I mean, I think Grover Norquist will be irrelevant in a year, because if he's calling this a tax increase, he's in Disneyland."
The Bowles-Simpson proposal is, more generally, a massive tax policy restructure than an increase. Corporate rates, for example, would be lowered to 23 percent, but it would be coupled with the raising of rates elsewhere and a simplification of the overall code.
That Norquist and others voiced opposition to the plan wasn't surprising. Drawing such lines in the sand is, basically, the main function of Americans for Tax Reform. And while Simpson may think that such rigidity is pointless posturing, Norquist's relevance seems likely to more enduring than his. Few Republican candidates have the stomach to risk his ire, knowing full well that the tar of supposedly supporting a tax increases sticks during a primary process.
A request for comment from a Norquist spokesman was not immediately returned.
UPDATE: American's for Tax Reform responds to Simpson with a post on the organization's website:
That's an odd statement considering page 11 of Alan Simpson's own plan admits that the plan raises net taxes by $1 trillion over the next decade.