Debt commission co-chair says upcoming debt limit ‘bloodbath’ will force action on recommendations

A co-chairman of President Obama’s debt commission said Friday that a fast-approaching congressional vote on whether to raise the government’s debt limit will cause a political “bloodbath” that will force lawmakers to take their recommendations seriously, regardless of whether their panel produces a consensus product.

“It won’t matter whether two of us have signed this or 14 or 18. When debt limit time comes they are going to look around and say, ‘What in the hell do we do now?” said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming.

“We’ve got guys who will not approve the debt limit extension unless we give them a piece of meat, real meat, off this package. And boy, the bloodbath will be extraordinary. They’ll say, ‘Well how the hell do you get meat off this package?’ And they’ll say, ‘A couple of jerks did something for eight months and it’s laying out there. Go look at it. It’s written in English. No wizardry in it,” Simpson said, speaking with reporters at a breakfast in Washington sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

“This is going to be beautiful politics: the brutal kind. I love those. The debt limit, when it comes, in April or May, will prove who’s a hero and who’s a jerk and who’s a charlatan,” said Simpson, who has always been known for his colorful commentary. “Oh, I can’t wait. It’ll be something. I’ll be watching … from our witness protection program.”

The federal debt is currently at $13.7 trillion, and the debt limit is $14.3 trillion.* Congress raised the limit to the current level from $12.4 trillion in February of this year, and they will have to confront the issue soon after the new year, possibly as early as February.

Lawmakers such as Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, have told TheDC that they do not think the debt limit necessarily needs to be increased. Coburn said he wants to see he $350 billion in spending be cut instead.

Simpson and fellow co-chair Erskine Bowles, a former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, last week released a preliminary draft of their proposals for reducing the debt and making Social Security solvent for 75 years.

The unexpected release of their draft set off a firestorm of criticism, as well as counter proposals from a liberal member of the commission and a more conservative proposal from another panel member. The loudest critics of the Bowles/Simpson plan have been on the left, while most on the right were quiet. The White House, also, was noncommittal in its response.

Simpson was dismissive of the complaints.

“I say to people who bitch and snort and pinpoint … Just go read the damn thing. Read it all. Read the whole damn thing, and then call us,” he said.

To those who downplay debt and deficit concerns, Simpson said: “It’s an indigestible lump … you cannot avoid it.”

Bowles responded more substantively to liberal groups and labor unions who have criticized their plans to fix Social Security.

On the retirement age, which is currently 66, Bowles said their plan moves it from 67 – which it is already scheduled to go up to in 2027 – to 68 in 2050 and 69 in 2075. They also proposed a “hardship provision” to allow those who cannot work beyond 62 to enter Social Security early.

And they increased payments for the “truly disadvantaged” to more than they get today, Bowles said. He acknowledged that the benefits are less in the future than they are currently scheduled to be, but said that what is scheduled to be paid out in future years is “a joke.”

“We can’t meet the schedule,” he said.

Both Simpson and Bowles also admitted that their proposals are unpopular, because it spreads sacrifice to all incomes and all interest groups in American politics. But they also argued that the American people are ready to accept some sacrifices and will reward politicians who make hard choices.

“They finally figured out at home that they had to cut their own credit cards, that they went broke and they had to lower their lifestyle, and they’re looking at the one agency of the world that has not done that, which is the federal government. So they’re sending these anti-tax people,” Simpson said.

Bowles added: “For years and years politicians have been afraid they’d be punished if they made tough decisions.”

“The world’s changed. They’re going to be heavily penalized if they don’t make these tough choices.”

E-mail Jon Ward and follow him on Twitter

*This article originally stated that the debt limit was $14.2 trillion.

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  • Swen

    They’re putting Big Al in the Witless Protection Program? Should have done that years ago. 😀

    C’mon, balancing the budget by 2040? That’s the best the Debt Commission could do? And that’s assuming that 30-years-worth of Congresses keep the promises they’re being asked to make today. Unhuh. Riiight. Don’t you think they’ve kicked the can far enough down the road already?

    But he’s right, it would be veeery interesting if Congress balks at raising the debt ceiling. That would certainly be one way to stop the government’s runaway spending. Calling it a “bloodbath” is probably putting it mildly.

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  • kingfish

    A tea party group should be the people on this “commission”. Bowles and Simpson are so old and with the “in-crowd” that they are “out of touch”. If I hear one more politician say they want to cut Social Security (a few dollars a month for the aged), instead of the VAST WASTEFUL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES that never go away regardless of being obsolete, I will scream.

    Some things that could be slashed with no adverse effect on Americans:
    (1) Dept of Education (worked better at the State and County level – grades continue to deteriorate)
    (2) Homeland Security (REFUSES to do its job of securing the border or deporting illegals. Instead, spends taxpayers money suing AZ, harassing airline passengers, and sending notices to nationwide police departments that returning Vets, tea partiers, patriots, and those with anti-Obama stickers on their cars are TERRORISTS. Allows their agents to insist an airline put a panty-bomber on their airplane with no ID (Christmas bomber). FOSTERED BP poisoning of the Gulf and allowed the Coast Guard, now under their supervision, to cover up OIL, TOXIC SEAFOOD, TOXIC AIR, and COREXIT SPRAYING. Napolitano should have been fired YEARS AGO!
    (3) DOJ (REFUSES to do its job of prosecuting Wall Street and big banks. Covers up instead, to include clear coverup of the Black Panthers crime – see Judicial Watch.
    (spends taxpayer money suing AZ)
    (4) Dept of Energy, which despite an oil crisis in 1972 has FAILED MISERABLY in turning the nation into an energy-efficient one in regard to housing and transportation. 100 years of future technology and medical cures for cancer THAT TAXPAYERS PAID FOR was handed over to military-industrial corporations who REFUSE TO GIVE THAT TECHNOLOGY TO THE PUBLIC. With the super-fast advancement of electronics, we should be driving spaceships by now, rather than the same oil-based cars at 25 mpg we were driving in the 50’s. Even electric cars (Volt) are old technology! Where are the air cars from Australia?
    (5) The wars should be ended and the Pentagon blasted for its use of hundreds of thousands of mercenaries like Halliburton, KBR, XE, etc. and for buying brand new trucks when a tire blows rather than stocking TIRES, and for their Israeli Pentagon comptroller losing over $2 billion just prior to 911, and for “losing” another $8 billion last year, and for “losing” planeloads of cash sent to Iraq, and for their ABJECT FAILURE (along with the Red Cross and Clinton/Bush fundraising — where did THAT money go?) to help Haiti in any way, shape or form. THE PENTAGON’S BUDGET SHOULD BE CUT FOR ALL THESE LOSSES IN THE FOLLOWING YEAR’S BUDGET. The Pentagon’s ever-expanding military bases, like the new one they’re planning in Columbia, should be SHUT DOWN and all those soldiers brought home to defend our own nation.
    (6) The State Dept under Hillary should STOP building billion-dollar embassies in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and London. Who will use these embassies in the desert and in war zones?
    (7) The Czars and their staffs should be cut. Michelle’s 27 aids should be cut. There should be a BUDGET LIMIT for presidential foreign trips.
    (8) Nancy Pelosi should NOT be given an airplane. All members of congress should fly commercial, and so should the presidential staff.


    • kingfish

      Two more ideas for slashing the federal budget:
      (1) $385 billion in social services handouts to illegals PER YEAR…food stamps, SSI (social security they DIDN’T pay into), HUD housing where Obama’s illegal aunt lived, free hospitalization, medicaid, free college education under DREAM Act, free public schools, prison for 30% illegal inmates, FREE LEGAL DEFENSE, building more schools, more prisons, hiring more teachers, more policemen, more court personnel, while they commit murders and rapes of children, form criminal gangs with impunity, drive drunk killing Americans.
      (2) Cut Israeli foreign aid completely (this is directed to Cantor). Americans are tired of paying for the war-mongering and threats.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tracy-Starrett/782356411 Tracy Starrett

        Well, I agree cut all foreign aid except for Israel.

  • MerryJ1

    Somehow I’m not real encouraged by a bunch of bureaucrats meeting to “find solutions” to the economic mess their general mind-set created and fueled over the past half-century.

    I think a better, quicker solution would be to start cutting and de-funding bureaucracies, pass the Fair Tax Act – which repeals the 16th Amendment, abolishes the Internal Revenue Service and eliminates the federal income tax. I realize that would put most of the K-Street lobbyists in the unemployment lines as well as about half-a-million bureaucrats or so, and close off a lot of campaign-donation doors to members of Congress, but what the heck – “shared sacrifice,” right?

    I know there’s a lot of misinformation and demogoguery about the Fair Tax (professional politicians generally hate the idea, which should suggest it’s better for regular citizens than it is for them), but there’s plenty of accurate information available at fairtax.org.

    • John

      I’m with you on that.

      To see the idiots who got us into this mess, for some God forsaken reason they now have all the answers to get us out.

      Cut spending!

      Cut, cut, cut and cut some more is the only real answer!

    • clw

      Absolutely agree with you. Fair Tax all the way.

  • baal

    Agricultural subsidies?
    War on Drugs?
    Defending Europe against a non-existent Soviet Union?
    Foreign aid?

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  • snappercat

    How silly; no way are entitlements sacrosanct.

  • Joe Steel

    I’m not sure what tools are available to President Obama but he must ensure all entitlements are fully funded. If that means gutting the military, so be it. If it means confiscating the liquid assets of the rich, so be it. Whatever is necessary to protect entitlements is permissible.

    • brian61

      I hope your post is pure satire. Otherwise, it is pure BS.

    • papa1

      I am thinking what brian is thinking. Machiavelli would be proud of your thoughts, but I am not.

    • erick1740

      Defund all entitlement programs. Reduce unemployment to 4 weeks. You can find a job in that time.

    • truebearing


      How about some other typical communist “solutions” like killing all “enemies of the people” aka non-communists.

      Build dozens of massive concentration camps in Death Valley, Alaska, and anywhere it is inhospitable. If you commies can match the track record of the commies of yesteryear, you will have eliminated 150,000,000 people that would just insist on eating and having a place to live, and that costs money.

      Yeah Joe, give the people the tried and true Communist “entitlement”, an early death. that’s how the left solves problems (they created)!

    • clw

      So what is your problem with Simpson and Bowles propsoals? Seems like (for one)adding one year to the retirement age in 2055, keeping it solvent for 75 years is completely logical. Particularly in light of the average life expectancy advancing faster than that. Is that why you have a problem with it? Because it IS logical, and doesn’t play into your socialist agenda of keeping the unsupportable spending frenzy of unfunded mandates going? I notice that you have no actual substantive comments on the article, as usual. Just the usual liberal anti-“rich”, anti-military drivel the left always regurgitates.

      • loudog

        How much military industrial complex spending are you willing to cut to keep your social security check secure or medicare from going broke?

        Or don’t conservatives worry about those things as long as China’s lending enough to cover it, like the last time they had a bright idea?

  • oldguy5

    We got to do something or we are all screwed.