Simpson-Bowles: ‘Witness Protection’

Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, former Sen. Alan Simpson, right, and Erskine Bowles, left, participate in a Joint Deficit Reduction Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on November 1, 2011.

Forget their names:

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles.

“We’re both on the witness protection program now,” said Simpson, the Republican former senator from Wyoming who teamed with Bowles, the Democratic former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, to navigate a way out of the nation’s fiscal dilema of deficits and taxes.

After going for the “grand bargain,” a multi-trillion-dollar package of spending cuts and tax increases, Simpson concedes that now they’ll be happy to get some “small ball” out of this politically mired Congress.

Just leave their names off any plan, Simpson joked this morning in an appearance with Bowles on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The Simpson-Bowles endorsement hasn’t worked so well in the past, with their own panel appointed by President Barack Obama unable to reach a super-majority consensus in 2010. As the White House left their work on the shelf, the co-chairmen set out on their own in search of a deal.

“Let me tell you, we’re just stunned at the stubbornness of both sides,” Simpson said today, assessing the stunning state of play in the congressional debate over extending the federal budget resolution at month’s end and then confronting the debt ceiling again sometime after mid-October.

While Bowles flatly predicted today that  it will never happen, the apparent willingness of newer representatives of the Republican Party to shut down the government for failure to achieve their goals — principally defunding “Obamacare” — astounds old hands who were accustomed to not only trusting colleagues but also compromising across the aisle.

“This is a sense of madness,” Simpson said. “You have people in my party who didn’t come there to limit government — they came to stop it… There’s no trust within the parties now. It’s not that you just don’t trust the Democrats or the Republicans, you’re scared to death of the guy behind you in your own party who’s ready to pick you off in the leadership. Boy, this is really something to watch.”


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