Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson discussed the nation’s fiscal situation with Gainesville regional leaders Wednesday.
Simpson (R-WY), who served from 1979 to 1997, spoke at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce about the federal budget, tax code, Social Security and health care.
Vice president of public policy at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Kamal Latham, said he hopes this visit will help start a new awareness and a call to action that will reverberate throughout the 2016 election.
Simpson has extensively studied the nation’s finances as co-chair of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform created by President Barack Obama in 2010. President Obama appointed Simpson to co-chair the commission with Erskine Bowles, a Chief of Staff to former President Bill Clinton.
Simpson said together they have found “the most egregious distortions and myths.”
“Myths about Social Security, myths about Medicare, myths about health care, that are all based on emotion and outrageous thought,” Simpson said. “We tried to nail it down and we did, and that just irritates the hell out of people.”
The commission’s 67-page report, signed by five Republicans, five Democrats and one Independent, included phrases like “going broke” and “shared sacrifice,” Simpson said.
“There’s been no shared sacrifice in this country since World War II,” Simpson said. “Everybody ran for the exits because you’re dealing with every hot-button issue.”
He said when involved in this kind of position, people will try to use fear, guilt or racism to manipulate the system.
“I never let that happen. I always slapped them back,” Simpson said. “I never lost an election. Pissed a lot of people off. Enjoyed it thoroughly.”
Simpson said he and Bowles found more than 180 tax expenditures in the tax code including loopholes, deductions and spending. When they were working in 2011 the cost was $1.1 trillion a year, he said.
“Only 20 percent of the American people use 80 percent of the stuff in the tax code,” Simpson said. “Who are those people? They’re the people who know how to work the tax code, and there’s been Democrats and Republicans, but they’re usually people of substance.”
Simpson said currently two-thirds of the American budget is not being dealt with.
“What is the two-thirds they’re not dealing with?” he asked. “The entitlements, health care and the solvency of social security.”
The former senator stressed Social Security is the biggest topic in the federal government.
“Forget whether it’s on budget or off budget or any gimmickry you want to do,” Simpson said. “It’s huge.”
And health care is unsustainable, he said.
“For God’s sake, the guy who could buy this campus gets a heart operation for 200 grand and doesn’t even get a bill,” Simpson said. “What’s that about? How could that be?”
Simpson said meanwhile politicians will say, “I know there’s a problem, but we can solve it without touching precious Medicare, precious Medicaid, precious defense and precious Social Security.”
Simpson said Congress never responds to anything; it only reacts.
“That means this country will take a hit, and then they’ll react and do something sensible,” Simpson said.
To get Congress to act, young people need to pay attention or the senior citizens will drain the Treasury, he said.
“There is no possibility right now to do anything to curb the shifting of resources to the seniors of this country at the complete neglect of the young people,” Simpson said.
When people complain about the government, Simpson tells them to get involved in politics.
“Why don’t you get off your butt and get in the game?” Simpson said. “Pick a party, pick an Independent, but get in the game.”
Latham invited Simpson to Gainesville after sharing a friendship for many years.
“When he did the panel with former Chief of Staff to President Clinton, Erskine Bowles, about deficit reduction and how to fix the debt, I thought he would be a great person to come here to Gainesville to deliver that message and to meet with some of our elected leaders and also some aspiring future public leaders,” Latham said.
Latham said Gainesville has a public leadership institute of individuals who are interested in running for office or getting involved in public leadership in some way.
On Sept. 24, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution calling the next president of the United States to address comprehensive tax reform within the first 100 days of taking office, Latham said.
“We want to see tax reform, and we want to see the debt to be fixed starting in 2017 when the new president takes office,” Latham said.
This affects Gainesville significantly because we have a thriving business community, Latham said.
“If you can have a simplified tax code, and if you can lower tax rates, then you will incentivize more investment in business that will create more economic opportunity,” Latham said, “which at the end of the day will help to facilitate more job creation right here in the Gainesville region.”
Simpson is speaking tonight at UF’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service.