Thursday, February 17, 2011

Alan Simpson, The Thinking Man's Republican

by Dick Mac

Retired Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) was hired by President Barack Obama to work with former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (D-NC) on leading a commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

I had my doubts about the Commission, as I think we all should have doubts about federal commissions. Most of these commissions are created to justify the status quo, or at least not upset the status quo.

I assumed that the bipartisan commission would come forward and give us the Fox News line: cut taxes, eliminate subsidies for children and families, cut education and public health, reduce spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, provide subsidies to big business to create jobs, increase defense spending, and prop-up the oil industry.

Representatives of both parties in our one-party system subscribe to some form of the Fox News Platform -- many to all of it.

I was a bit startled to hear Alan Simpson on the radio say things that Republicans are not known for saying. In discussing social safety net issues with interviewer Steve Inskeep, he offered:
Simpson: [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program], that's a critically important thing. That shouldn't even be 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.

SIMPSON: No! 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 and that's what we tried to do with a $400 billion cut.

For those unfamiliar with the vernacular, military contractors are generally mercenaries.

Hearing a Republican talk about cutting money for military contractors is very refreshing. I have been saying for years (decades?) that we spend way too much money on mercenaries. Dumping the mercenaries and putting a fraction of that money into troops could improve conditions for our soldiers, perhaps even allow us to increase the number of actual military personnel, AND save a lot of money.

Medicare is the other hot-button issue for Republicans. There are actually many pictures of elderly Tea Party protesters holding signs that say things like "Keep your federal government out of my Medicare." Aging white guys are a huge chunk of Republican supporters, so the GOP rarely suggests cuts to Medicare.

Military spending and Medicare spending are out of control. One is a corporate safety net and one is a social safety net. To some degree, we need both of them; but, do we need them to look like they do today? Do we need to prop-up both a military-industrial complex and a medical-insurance complex, neither of which promise any growth in jobs, reduction in costs, increase in revenue for the Treasury, nor reductions in spending?

The notion that we should cut milk money for children is absurd when we are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for each of a quarter-million mercenaries; and insurance company executives are earning salaries of tens of millions of dollars - much of it from our tax coffers. Cutting heating-oil subsidies for working class families in the North is not going to help our budget, but cutting payments to military contractors will.

It's all about perspective: when we put the numbers in perspective, we start to realize that the expensive social safety net programs are programs we all support (Medicare), and that our ignorance of the money sent to mercenaries and insurance companies makes it difficult for most people to make an adequate analysis of what's happening to our tax dollars.

To hear Senator Simpson putting military spending on the table as a problem in the federal budget reminds me that were once elected Republicans who actually could think about what's going on, instead of just reacting to what's going on.

A link to the Commission's report, The Moment Of Truth.

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