Is Alan Simpson Undermining the Deficit Commission?

Is Alan Simpson Undermining the Deficit Commission?

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Alan Simpson, the Republican co-chairman of President Obama’s deficit commission, apologized on Wednesday for comparing Social Security to “a milk cow with 310 million tits!”

It was Simpson’s latest outburst, coming two months after he gave a profanity-laced interview in which he railed at liberal critics of the deficit commission. The new explosion prompted multiple calls for Simpson’s resignation, but it also rekindled concerns that the former Wyoming senator may be hurting chances for the bipartisan panel to agree on recommendations to reduce the deficit.

Simpson’s outburst came in a letter to Ashley Carson, executive director of the Older Women’s League, who had criticized him in a commentary at Huffington Post. “If you have some better suggestions about how to stabilize Social Security instead of just babbling into the vapors, let me know,’’ Simpson wrote to Carson on Monday. “And yes, I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know ‘em too. It’s the same with any system in America. We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work!”

On Wednesday, a contrite Simpson sent Carson a letter of apology.  “I can see that my remarks have caused you anguish, and that was not my intention,’’ Simpson wrote. “Over the last 40 years, I have had my size 15 feet in my mouth a time or two. To quote my old friend and colleague, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, when I make a mistake, ‘It’s a doozy!’”

The apology did nothing to assuage Simpson’s critics. Carson’s group circulated an online petition calling for Simpson’s resignation. “This is much more than a ‘foot in your mouth’ situation,” she said on her website. “Mr. Simpson has demonstrated a consistent, decades-long, pattern of making statements that are offensive to seniors, to women and that are just plain unacceptable in 2010…. His actions demonstrate that he does not possess the judgment necessary to make objective recommendations about some of America's most valued programs."

Numerous groups, including the National Organization for Women and AARP, the powerful lobbying group for older Americans, denounced Simpson as well. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., sent a letter asking President Obama to fire Simpson.

“The statement by Senator Simpson that Social Security is ‘like a milk cow with 310 million tits’ is really quite beyond comprehension,’’ the two lawmakers wrote. “Today, Social Security provides the majority of income for two-thirds of the nation's elderly and for one-third it provides nearly all their income . . . In order for your commission's recommendations to have credibility with Congress, we respectfully urge you to remove Senator Simpson from the commission.”

The AARP, which represents tens of millions of older Americans, said Simpson’s remarks were “offensive” and “insulting” and had gravely damaged the deficit commission’s credibility. “Sen. Simpson’s most recent departure from reality would be easy to dismiss if not for his position co-leading a Presidential commission that will likely recommend changes to Social Security,’’ said Drew Nannis, AARP’s senior vice president. “Sen. Simpson's remarks not only cross the line of good judgment, but they undermine the serious work of the commission and give us little confidence the commission can fairly look at important programs such as Social Security.”

Simpson himself was not immediately available for comment. A spokesman for the deficit panel, known formally as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, said Simpson had been on vacation in Yellowstone National Park and was back in his home state of Wyoming.

Simpson apologized after a series of telephone conversations with the panel’s Democratic co-chairman, Erskine B. Bowles, and the group’s executive director, Bruce Reed. Fred Baldassaro, the panel’s spokesman, said officials first heard about Simpson’s letter after White House officials made inquiries. Carson had forwarded Simpson's letter to President Obama, calling for Simpson’s resignation. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment, but spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told the New York Times: “Alan Simpson has apologized and while we regret and do not condone his comments, we accept his apology and he will continue to serve.”

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