CHEYENNE--During Al Simpson's nearly 50 years in government, he hasn't been afraid to take on critics and naysayers of his work in the U.S. Senate or on a variety of high-profile commissions and committees.
But as the co-chair of President Obama's debt commission, the Wyoming Republican said he's been taking an unprecedented amount of flak for the commission's draft proposals to help erase the nation's $13.8 trillion debt.
"I've never had any nastier mail or [been in a] more difficult position in my life," said the 79-year-old Simpson. "Just vicious. People I've known, relatives [saying], "'You son of a bitch. How could you do this?'"
Not surprisingly, many of the debt commission's draft proposals to cut the debt by nearly $4 trillion by 2020 -- from raising the retirement age to 69 by 2075 to bringing in $1 trillion more in tax revenue -- have won strong opposition from liberals and conservatives alike.
But Simpson said that while every interest group that testified before his committee agreed that the mounting federal debt is a national tragedy, they would then talk about why government funding to their area of interest shouldn't be touched.
"We had the greatest generation -- I think this is the greediest generation," he said.
All this hubbub isn't a surprise to Simpson, given how politically polarized the country is these days.
"You don't want to listen to the right and the left -- the extremes," he said. "You don't want to listen to Keith Olbermann and Rush Babe [Limbaugh] and Rachel Minnow [sic] or whatever that is, and Glenn Beck. They're entertainers. They couldn't govern their way out of a paper sack -- from the right or the left. But they get paid a lot of money from you and advertisers -- thirty, fifty million a year -- to work you over and get you juiced up with emotion, fear, guilt, and racism. Emotion, fear, guilt, and racism.
"Time to go for facts. Everybody's entitled to their own opinion, but nobody's entitled to their own facts," Simpson said, paraphrasing former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
In today's political environment, Simpson said it was hard to establish trust even among the various members of the debt commission.
"There are 18 of us on the commission, and it took us four months to establish trust," he said. "That's how bad things are in Washington. Four, five months before we could trust somebody not to leak what we said or go out and crater it."
However, Simpson said he's loved taking on the challenge of cutting the debt and -- as he said often during an interview Tuesday -- through the b.s.
Simpson said he's spent about $25,000 of his own money on travel and hotel expenses on behalf of the debt commission -- an expense he said he doesn't mind paying.
Simpson might appear cynical about politics these days. But he said he hasn't lost heart.
"I really believe that there are more patriots in America than selfish, selfish people," he said.