Former Sen. Alan Simpson has completed his work as co-chair of a federal panel tasked with reducing America’s budget deficits and reigning in the national debt. The plan outlines a combination of spending cuts and tax increases recommended to slash nearly $3.9 trillion from budget deficits over the next decade. Simpson and his commission co-chair, Erskine Bowles, are scheduled to discuss their proposal Wednesday, Dec. 8 at the 2010 Wyoming Forum in Cheyenne.

In this special report, WyoFile looks at three areas of his involvement with the commission:

‘You Ain’t Seen What We’ve Done to You Yet’

When former Sen. Alan Simpson first joined Erskine Bowles, former Clinton White House chief of staff, as co-chairs of a bipartisan commission created to find ways to reduce the nation’s budget deficit, he joked that it was a “suicide mission.”

By most measures, including his own assessment, it appears nine months later that Simpson has not only survived the suicide mission, but achieved some of its main objectives.

But Simpson said he has no illusions about how hard it will be to win broad public approval during a lingering economic downturn, despite strong support for reigning in deficits and trimming the national debt.

“Everybody’s taking a hit,” he said. “I see people in the airports and they give me a thumbs up, and I say, ‘You better get your thumb down. You ain’t seen what we’ve done to you yet.’”

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What the Deficit Reduction Plan Means for Wyoming

An ambitious deficit-reduction plan released by the 18-member National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform failed to receive the 14 votes required to force a vote by Congress on its recommendations. But elements of the proposal are likely to show up in next year’s budget package, said commission co-chair Alan Simpson.

How those recommendations, if adopted, would effect Wyoming remains to be seen. But the loss of key income tax deductions are likely to hit oil and gas producers as well as the coal industry.

The elimination of 175 or more tax expenditures would require that some of America’s wealthiest pay more, Simpson said. That would mean much higher income taxes in Teton County, where the average per capita income is $132,728, the highest in the nation.

But the plan could also have “serious consequences” for middle-class residents everywhere, including in Wyoming, according to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a commission member, who voted against the proposal.

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‘Milk Cows,’ Social Security and Trimming America’s Budget Deficits

Despite the sometimes grim and difficult process of exploring benefit cuts and tax hikes, deficit panel co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles have tirelessly pitched their plan to the people and the press with an affable mix of folksy advice, dire warnings and gallows humor.

But for a nation — not to mention a Washington, D.C. community of special-interest advocates — that is far less accustomed to Simpson’s colorful comments than are his neighbors in Wyoming, it didn’t take long for his quips to become political fodder.

While in the Senate, Simpson chaired the Social Security Subcommittee and the Committee on Aging. But he sometimes ran afoul of senior groups who disagreed with his calls for overhauls in popular programs like Social Security and Medicare.

So it should have been no surprise that his position on the deficit panel made Simpson a lightning rod for criticism from advocates for seniors and the federal programs that serve them.

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If you go…

Former Sen. Alan Simpson and his commission co-chair, Erskine Bowles, former Clinton White House chief of staff, are scheduled to discuss their proposal Wednesday, Dec. 8 at the 2010 Wyoming Forum in Cheyenne.

An authorized biography of  Simpson written by his former chief of staff, Donald Hardy, will be released in mid-September by the University of Oklahoma Press. For more information, contact the author: SimpsonBook@gmail.com.

READ OR DOWNLOAD the deficit commission report, “The Moment of Truth.”

READ OR DOWNLOAD results from a June 2010 town hall meeting in Casper that was part of a series of national discussions and workshops on deficit reduction.

READ OR DOWNLOAD an alternative deficit reduction plan produced by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

READ OR DOWNLOAD an alternative deficit reduction plan created by Rep. Jill Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

READ OR DOWNLOAD a May 2010 presentation by Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, about the system’s solvency and sustainability.

READ OR DOWNLOAD an August 23, 2010 email and August 25, 2010 apology from former Sen. Alan Simpson to Rachel Carson, executive director of the Older Women’s League.

READ a Sept. 5, 2010 column, America has a cow over Alan Simpson’s candor on deficits, by Washington Post reporter and columnist Dana Milbank.

WATCH a video of an exchange between former Sen. Alan Simpson and National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill, as she delivers a bag of 1,500 baby bottle nipples to Simpson at a September 2010 deficit commission meeting.


The Moment of Truth

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