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Al Simpson: For crying out loud, fix the debt

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Alan Simpson

Alan Simpson

Alan Simpson is angry with Washington.

In a new commercial sponsored by the Campaign to Fix the Debt, the former Wyoming U.S. senator and his longtime partner in punditry, Erskine Bowles, continue their crusade to convince politicians in the Capitol to figure out a way to decrease federal spending and pay the nation’s bills.

The commercial begins with Simpson grumbling about D.C. to Bowles, the former deputy chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.

“For crying out loud, Erskine, who isn’t fed up with Washington?”

Bowles is just as grumpy. “These politicians are playing games and jerking our country around from crisis to crisis.”

The punch line of the commercial is simple: Washington needs to stop squabbling over short-term spending bills and shrink its $17 trillion in debt and cut its deficit.

The commercial comes at a time when the nation is dealing with a shutdown over a stopgap spending bill that would fund the government until mid-November and what’s become an annual gripe over the nation’s borrowing limit, known as the debt ceiling.

“What we address isn’t about spending, it’s about paying our bills,” Simpson said in a phone interview with the Star-Tribune.

Sequestration, the fiscal cliff and the current congressional impasse don’t even touch the nation’s biggest problem: reducing the debt and deficit, he said.

Simpson and Bowles have been parlaying the anti-Washington sentiment since a 2010 report penned by the two failed to gain the approval of President Barack Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Despite the failure of the report to become policy, the duo hasn’t gone away since.

Some beltway insiders view Bowles and Simpson as irascible curmudgeons who need to step out of the spotlight. But the 82-year-old Simpson doesn’t plan on relenting anytime soon.  

“People ought to wake up,” he said. “Young people need to drop what they’re doing and do math, because they are being had.”

Simpson and Bowles say their plan would have reduced the nation’s debt and deficit while reining in government spending on all of the nation’s programs. Unlike sequestration and the debate over the short-term spending bill perpetuating the government shutdown, the Simpson-Bowles plan also aimed to curb spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Those three mandatory programs, Simpson said, are two-thirds of spending and will eventually drive the country into default.

The fast-talking politician-turned-pundit said he and Bowles were touring colleges in Ohio and imploring young people to call their members of Congress and encourage them to attack the debt and deficit.

They were asked to shoot the commercial in Cincinnati, and now it will be beamed into TVs in 10 states.

Columnists panned the new commercial as an attempt by the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a centrist think tank in Washington, to hijack the talks about ending the government shutdown and lifting the debt ceiling to come up with an all-encompassing plan that will act as a long-term budget deal.

In a Sunday column written by Lawrence Summers, former secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, he said the shutdown and the debt ceiling were more pressing than worrying about the nation’s debt and deficit.

“Budget deficits are now a second-order problem relative to more pressing issues facing the U.S. economy,” Summers wrote. “Projections that there is a major deficit problem are highly uncertain. And policies that indirectly address deficit issues by focusing on growth are sounder economically and more plausible politically than the long-term budget deals with which much of the policy community is obsessed.”

Despite the jab at groups like Simpson’s, the lack of a long-term budget deal has propelled the nation from crisis to crisis in the past couple years, said Jon Romano, spokesman for the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

“Instead of reciting passages of ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ we should be talking about the debt,” he said. “There needs to be negotiations around the budget.”

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