Co-Chair of Obama's 'Fiscal Commission' Calls Social Security a 'Milk Cow with 310 Million Tits'

Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming and co-chair of Barack Obama’s fiscal reform commission, sent a note to an advocate for the elderly that reveals the depth of elite scorn for working Americans. Simpson’s missive dripped with condescension as he derided our Social Security program as “a milk cow with 310 million tits!” 


Simpson sent the note to Ashley Carson, Executive Director of OWL, a group that advocates on the behalf of older women, in response to a post Carson wrote on the Huffington Post in April. In it, Carson accused Simpson of painting a “picture that everyone receiving Social Security benefits is living the high life - driving luxury cars, dining out and living in gated communities.” The reality of poverty for seniors, she wrote, “is alarming. The most shocking of all is that almost one quarter of older African American women live in poverty and that 45% of older women living alone are poor. This means that each of these people lives on less than $10,400 annually.”

Simpson chose to respond to the column with petty insults. “Some of what you say is true,” he wrote. “Much is not … I’ve spent many years in public life trying to stabilize that system while people like you babble into the vapors about ‘disgusting attempts at ageism and sexism’ and all the rest of that crap.” Simpson sent a paper along with the note, and said Carson should “take a look at the chart on Page 6 which I hope you are able to discern if you are any good at reading graphs – or anything that might challenge your biases and prejudices. “

But the letter betrayed Simpson’s own long-standing ‘biases and prejudices.’ The commission he co-chairs deliberates behind closed doors, but what little light has escaped its proceedings suggests that, as reporter David Dayen noted, it is “stacked with people who want to target entitlement spending rather than any balanced proposal.”

The commission is ostensibly looking at all options for reducing America’s long-term budget gap, but in an interview with CNBC Simpson conceded, “We are going to stick to the big three,” meaning, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. As the Alliance for Retired Americans noted, throughout the interview Simpson “leveled several attacks against seniors and senior advocacy organizations, accusing them of not caring ‘a whit about their grandchildren…not a whit.’” 

Simpson has a long history of arrogantly belittling advocates for the working class and the elderly. When Alex Lawson of Social Security Works tried to ask Simpson to detail what the commission was discussing, Simpson went ballistic. FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher described the scene: “Alex Lawson was incredibly respectful and polite as the crankly Simpson berated, interrupted and cussed him.” (A video of the exchange is available here.)

According to the Washington Post, Simpson “has chastised ‘greedy geezers’ for fighting to protect their retirement checks while their grandchildren face a towering debt.”  But those “geezers” paid into the system over the course of their careers -- the rate’s been set at 7.65 percent of their incomes since 1990.

Social Security is in fine shape. It’s got a surplus that will run out in 2037, but even if nothing were to change by then, it could still continue to pay out 75 percent of scheduled benefits seventy-five years from now, long after the surplus disappears, and those benefits would still be higher than what retirees receive today.

Fiscal scare-mongers like Simpson make a great deal of fuss about the fact that by 2016, the total benefits paid out of the program will exceed Social Security tax revenues, and the fund will have to be tapped to make up the difference. Yet that’s exactly what it was always supposed to do. That’s why Congress created it -- to ease the boomers into the system without shock. (And because the bonds in the Trust Fund earn interest, the total value of the fund will actually continue to grow after that date. If nothing else changes, the total paid out in benefits won’t exceed tax revenues combined with interest on the bonds until 2024.)

But a long-standing campaign against the popular program has had an effect -- polls consistently show that younger people are pessimistic about the program’s stability and fear that it won’t be there when they reach retirement.

Advocates for the elderly are now calling for Simpson to be kicked off the commission. As Syracuse University scholar and Social Security Works co-director Eric Kingson writes, “Simpson should be sent packing because he is a crude bully whose disposition and biases render him totally inappropriate to co-chair this important commission.”

The full text of Simpson’s diatribe can be downloaded here.

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