by Jonathan Singer, Tue Feb 16, 2010 at 07:19:58 PM EST
According to The Wall Street Journal, President Obama will tap former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson "as co-chairmen of a bipartisan commission to tackle the mounting federal debt."
With Simpson's name in the in the mix, I thought it worth revisiting another interview I did about five years ago -- specifically the portion of my conversation with Simpson relating to his views on tackling long-term deficits:
Jonathan Singer: Looking at Social Security, the problem with Social Security, if you take the President's number the program's trust fund will be bankrupt in 2040 or so, at which point benefits will be cut by about a quarter. Medicare, on the other hand, the trust fund will run out within about the next decade. Is it time to focus on Medicare and Medicaid rather than Social Security?
Alan Simpson: No. That would be a real grave mistake. You'd better cure the lesser one before you go for the cancer. Go for the one that is lesser, because the figures are huge. Guys your age will be eaten alive in regard to money. So if they can't resolve Social Security, then don't even try to help Medicare if you haven't done anything on Social Security.
It's not clear whether Simpson's views today are similar to what they were in 2005 when we spoke -- that is, whether he believes it makes more sense to tackle smaller bore problems before addressing the more difficult issues -- but it might be worth it for the White House press corps to ask the question. Presumably Simpson does still agree with with his earlier sentiments on appointing a Commission to take on challenges Congress has been unable to successfully tackle. Here's Simpson on a Social Security Commission:
Alan Simpson: I said [to the House Financial Services Committee], "gentlemen and ladies, you'll never get that done on this end. You'd better appoint a commission and take the heat off yourselves, because you're never going to make it yourselves."
Again, it's not clear that Simpson believes today exactly what he believed five years ago -- but it's nevertheless interesting to get a sense of the perspective with which he approaches his role as co-chairman of President Obama's deficit commission.