Simpson: ‘Sequester should be avoided’

Posted 2/21/13

Along with Democrat Erskine Bowles, co-chair of a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, Simpson says the automatic cuts are too steep and could set back the economy.

“Sharp austerity could have the opposite effect by tempering the …

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Simpson: ‘Sequester should be avoided’


With just days remaining before a March 1 deadline for broad, automatic spending cuts, former Sen. Alan Simpson of Cody is back in the national spotlight, offering a new deficit-reduction plan he sees as a possible compromise for Democrats and Republicans.

Along with Democrat Erskine Bowles, co-chair of a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, Simpson says the automatic cuts are too steep and could set back the economy.

“Sharp austerity could have the opposite effect by tempering the still-fragile economic recovery. In order to protect the recovery, the sequester should be avoided and deficit reduction should be phased in gradually,” they wrote. Simpson called the looming across-the-board cuts “mindless” and “stupid.”

In a plan unveiled Tuesday, Simpson and Bowles instead call for reducing the deficit by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years, with much of the savings coming through health care changes, the closing of tax loopholes, a stingier adjustment of Social Security’s cost-of-living increases and other measures.

The proposal calls for about one-quarter of the savings to come from changes in health care programs and another quarter from revenue generated by tax changes.

“This is simple stuff. For God’s sake, unless you get a handle on healthcare — which is running on automatic pilot — and do something with the solvency of Social Security, what kind of a heritage are you leaving for people like you or your children?” Simpson told the Tribune. “This is madness.”

Simpson and Bowles previously proposed a similar federal deficit reduction measure in 2010, but it didn’t gain the needed traction in Washington. They’re trying again with the sequestration cuts bearing down.

“We pitched ‘er back on the stack and we’ll see what happens,” Simpson said of the plan.

The sequestration cuts would automatically remove $85 billion from the government’s budgets for the next few months, covering a range of agencies and programs from law enforcement, national parks, the Department of Defense and military.

President Barack Obama warned Tuesday that “people will lose their jobs” if Congress doesn’t act. But lawmakers weren’t in session to hear his appeal, and they aren’t coming back to work until next week. Still dividing the two sides are sharp differences over whether tax increases — which Obama wants and Republicans oppose — should be part of a budget deal.

Neither Simpson nor U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo, believe the cuts will be averted.

“Sequestration, it’s going to happen,” Enzi told a Powell audience on Wednesday. “It’s got to happen.”

Simpson agreed.

“A month ago I would have said it would have been impossible, but ... it’s going to happen simply because Republicans will say, ‘Well, they keep jabbing us on not getting enough spending cuts and this sure as hell does it,’ and the Democrats are going to say, well, (Republicans) kept saying there’s no fat in the defense department — and let me tell you, there is ... — so we’ll let them take a hit then,” Simpson told the Tribune. “And it will be chaotic, and the people will be pissed off.”

“When it goes into effect, you’re going to see some things you didn’t want to see,” Enzi said. “And that’s because sequestration was not set up right.”

Enzi said each agency should have identified priorities and prepared to eliminate the things it does worst “instead of doing what they’re going to do: which is elimination of the best, because that way you all will complain about what we (Congress) did ... and the sequester will be overcome.”

As an example of perhaps just that, local tourism officials are already worrying about what a sequester could mean for national parks, which stand to face a $110 million cut.

Media reports indicate the cuts could delay the spring opening of Yellowstone National Park’s entrances by two to four weeks, said Scott Balyo, executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, in a Wednesday message.

“While few people would argue the need to get our nation’s fiscal house in order, it is my hope that cuts that won’t restrict Yellowstone access can be identified as alternatives to road closures,” Balyo wrote.

Balyo and Claudia Wade, director of the Park County Travel Council, sent a joint letter to Wyoming’s Congressional delegation, expressing their concern.

“So much of our economy is tied to Yellowstone that even small, targeted cuts can have a large, negative impact,” they wrote. “Traffic through the East Gate of Yellowstone and Park County lodging tax collections were both up 10 percent last year. We do not want to lose the momentum gained through our effective marketing efforts.”

The cuts would take government spending back to 2008 levels, Enzi said. He criticized President Obama for setting up the sequestration cuts, refusing to modify them and now saying they’re the wrong approach.

Simpson faulted ideological rigidity.

Of the current impasse, “everybody’s at fault,” he said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)