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Alan Simpson opens his yap on Social Security

May 24, 2012|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson's efforts to tell it like it is on Social Security are hampered by a lack of information.
Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson's efforts to tell it like it is on Social… (Brendan Hoffman / Getty…)

... and the results, as usual, are ugly.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) has made a name for himself by lowering the tenor of debate over Social Security with his intemperate and vulgar attacks on the program's advocates -- not to mention with his ignorant grasp of the subject. What makes him especially dangerous is the credibility he has gained as an author of the so-called Bowles-Simpson anti-deficit proposal.

The charmless Simpson directed his most recent blast at the California Alliance for Retired Americans, an Oakland group that claims to represent 950,000 retirees as an umbrella organization for numerous advocacy groups. The alliance organized pickets at two appearances Simpson made recently with Erskine Bowles to promote their deficit nostrums, which call effectively for cutting Social Security benefits. The flyer handed out by the alliance was headed: "Simpson! Bowles! Stop using the deficit as a phony excuse to gut our Social Security!" 

Simpson shot back a letter, dated April 7, calling the group "greedy geezers" peddling a "nefarious bunch of crap" and "shoveling out ... bull—."

Simpson's sole attempt at a substantive point was to cite the latest Social Security trustees report as saying "the system will now 'hit the skids' in 2033 instead of 2036." Typically for Simpson, that's a misrepresentation. The report says that according to one of its several forecasts, the system's trust fund may be exhausted in 2033 -- but that it will still have enough money to continue paying about 75% of currently scheduled benefits -- that's more than it's paying out today. The report also makes clear that the reason for the statistical change is not structural, but current slow growth in the economy, which is already improving.

Max Richman, chief executive of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and a former staff director of the Senate Committee on Aging, upbraided Simpson on Thursday for his behavior, asking the former senator in a letter to "cease and desist with the mean-spirited ... and hate-filled personal attacks on America's seniors." 

"The American people deserve and expect a true dialogue in which retirees are more than 'greedy geezers' and those with opposing world views aren’t treated with the total disrespect you hand out so freely. After thirty years, isn’t it long past time to elevate the conversation beyond personal and profane attacks on those you simply disagree with?"

But Richman, who plainly knows Simpson well, added: "I know this letter is likely an exercise in futility."

At the California Alliance, they were properly shocked at the quality of Simpson's prose.

"Horrible and nasty" was how the group's president, Nan Brasmer, described it. She had no trouble putting her finger on the underlying theme of Simpson's rants. "They make Social Security sound like a gift, but it isn't a gift," she said. "We paid for it all our working lives, and our employers paid for it." People like Simpson, who probably wouldn't miss it if it went away, just want to take it away from working people who would.

RELATED:

Hiltzik: Get this man away from Social Security

Hiltzik: Let's beef up Social Security instead of cutting it

Hiltzik: An anti-social move by the Social Security Administration

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