Budget Plan Includes Commission Recommendations

Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson talks to Steve Inskeep about President Obama's budget proposal and the deficit. Simpson was the co-chairman of the president's debt commission, which proposed both lower spending and increased tax revenue.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson is watching the budget debate from his home in Wyoming. Simpson co-chaired a presidential budget commission which proposed both lower spending and increased tax revenue.

This week, the Republican is praising the president's budget team. He's calling the White House proposal a start, saying it incorporates many of the commission's ideas.

Mr. ALAN SIMPSON (Former Republican Senator, Wyoming): There's no one shrieking about, quote, "Oh, you can't cut this or you can't cut that." It's just degrees of cut.

INSKEEP: Now Simpson says it's time for Republicans and Democrats to talk of eliminating big tax deductions and addressing the government's main expenses.

Mr. SIMPSON: You can't get there on either one of these plans because the Big Four - unless you do something with Medicare and Medicaid and defense, and stabilize and make solvent Social Security, you've done very little.

INSKEEP: Are those the Big Four you referred to: Medicare and Medicaid, defense and Social Security? That's where the money is?

Mr. SIMPSON: Of course. And if you do nothing in that area, that stuff is on automatic pilot. I would say to people: What do you love? Well, I love education. I love Homeland Security. I love culture. I love WIC. I love this. Great. I said: Then don't do anything with the other four, and it will squeeze out, because it's on automatic pilot. It will squeeze out everything you love in the next years, and you can't get there toying alone with discretionary cuts. You can't get there, period.

INSKEEP: Does it bother you at all that President Obama, having convened the commission and having watched as you assembled a majority - not the super majority of 14 that you wanted, but a majority. Does it bother you at all that the president did not basically propose your budget plan when it came time for him to lay out a budget?

Mr. SIMPSON: No, it doesn't bother me at all, because he's talked about a lot of our stuff. But it's down in the bowels there. It's stuff that the American people don't see. But we still have some left over staff, and they're saying, you know, you'd be surprised how much stuff he's mentioned, which opens the door to where they've got to go. But no, I'm not disappointed in him.

INSKEEP: As you know, there have been a lot of proposals for cuts from the White House, from House Republicans, from other sources. The White House, just this week, made headlines by proposing cutting in half low-income heating assistance. Do you think that it is possible to balance the budget or move it close to balanced while preserving what we've called the social safety net that has grown up in this country over many decades?

Mr. SIMPSON: Heating, that's the LEAP group, that's the L-I...

INSKEEP: LIHEAP.

Mr. SIMPSON: Yeah. And that's a critically important thing, and it shouldn't be even touched. You don't need to touch that. You need to go get rid of 250,000 contractors in the Defense Department, where you can really pick up some small change.

INSKEEP: So you think the safety net can be preserved. That's not really where the big money is, anyway.

Mr. SIMPSON: No. You know, child nutrition, WIC, those things don't need to be chopped up. Go for the chunk. Go in there to the Medicare and start hammering in there, and that's what we tried to do with the $400 billion cut. Don't ever count on a Congress in the future to do any cutting, because the groups are waiting for that date to arrive, and man, they'll be there.

INSKEEP: Although your remarks about the Defense Department raises another question: Do you think that the budget can be brought into balance - or close enough to being in balance - and the United States still preserves its preeminent military role in the world, preserves very strong armed forces, foreign aid, and the other things that the United States does abroad that extends its influence around the world?

Mr. SIMPSON: Without any question. We have a defense budget now which is larger than all 14 other countries. That ought to get you somewhere.

INSKEEP: Fourteen other major powers, you're talking about.

Mr. SIMPSON: Yeah, major powers, except China, of course, and now they're gearing up. We found stuff in the Defense Department that you can't believe. Now here's one for you: There is a DOD health care system. It is separate from the Veterans' Administration. It's separate from Obamacare. It affects 2.2 million military retirees. Their premium is 460 bucks a year, and the cost of that to the U.S. is $53 billion a year.

INSKEEP: So maybe people ought to pay in a little more.

Mr. SIMPSON: And I tell you, when you mention that, here come the reserve officers, here come the VA, here come the Veterans' groups, and they'll rain boulders on your head. So as long as people want to be fueled with emotion, fear, guilt and racism, that's how you pass or kill something in this country. You use emotion, fear, guilt or racism, and I've been in them all. I did the immigration, nuclear, Social Security, aging, and as long as people are buffaloed by that and fogged by it on the basis of protecting their hide from any peril, as H.L. Mencken once said, we're in deep trouble.

INSKEEP: Former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, always a pleasure to speak with you.

Mr. SIMPSON: It's a pleasure to do that. You bet. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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