Pushing a plan to reduce the nation's debt, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming made an exclusive stop in Centennial, mobilizing business and grassroots support for his Fix the Debt campaign.
Simpson spoke at the invitation of John Brackney, South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce president and co-chair of Fix the Debt's Colorado chapter.
More than 150 people turned out for a Jan. 21 reception at the chamber to hear the 81-year-old, 6-foot-7 curmudgeon discuss what his nonpartisan project can do to improve the country's fiscal health.
“It's not an issue of how we got here, it's what do we do about it now,” said Simpson, a Republican. “You sent guys like me to Washington to bring home the bacon, and if we didn't, we didn't get re-elected ... and we all made promises we couldn't keep, and that's pretty much where we are today.”
Simpson, along with former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, chaired the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commissioned by President Obama in 2010. The Simpson-Bowles plan — which garnered a number of high-profile supporters but didn't gain congressional approval — pledged to reduce the federal deficit by $4 trillion, stabilize public debt by 2014, reduce debt 60 percent by 2023 and eventually eliminate it by 2035.
Today, the national debt exceeds $16 trillion.
Speaking without reserve, a salty Simpson insisted that when it comes to Social Security entitlements and their effect on the budget, the numbers speak for themselves, saying the program has a $900 billion negative cash flow.
“When I was a freshman at the (University of Wyoming), had hair, weighed 260 pounds and thought beer was food, there were 15 people paying into Social Security and one person taking out,” he said. “Today there are three people paying in and one person taking out; in three years, there will be two people paying in and one person taking out.”
Simpson added that on any given day, more than 10,000 Americans are turning 65 and the nation's life expectancy in three years will close to 80, rendering the entire system, as it stands, unsustainable.
By 2031, Social Security checks will be 25 percent less, and in two and a half years, Social Security disability insurance will be gone due to overuse.
Defense spending was also on Simpson's list of targets.
“Our defense budget is $740 billion,” he said. “The defense budget of the top 17 countries on earth, including Russia and China, combined is only $540 billion.”
Department of Defense school systems, Medicare, hospitals, the home mortgage deduction, taxes and tort reform — Simpson left no stone unturned.
Businessman Jim Lambatos, who owns Ivy, an upscale restaurant in Centennial, said Simpson's ideas are refreshing.
“I really got a lot of insight into why most American's don't understand the situation this country is in, and it's sad,” said Lambatos. “From today's event I'm really taking away a philosophy of working smarter, more efficiently and focusing on sustainability.”
“We have many of the same challenges in local and state politics as there are at the federal level,” said Phil Cernanec, Littleton city councilmember.
Simpson closed with a warning.
“Hang on, because when March comes, we're just gonna kick the can down the road,” he said of the upcoming vote by Congress to raise the debt ceiling. “And if any 30-year-old can't figure out what's gonna happen to them when they turn 65, they don't need any help from me. They are gonna get creamed.”