As you have heard me say before that volunteering at the library is a “great gig”. I could write about my great experiences daily; but today was one of the high lights, so far…
Southern Methodist University has a lecture series called the Tate Lecture Series which has a significant speaker every month from September to May. Last month was Charles Krauthammer and last night was Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. Tickets to those events are like “hens teeth” and they are passed down from father to son or family to family and has a waiting list of 7 years for season tickets for the general public. One of the benefits of these visits is that these folks normally visit the library (after normal hours) while in town.
Today’s experience, for me, was worth a lot. Alan Simpson was the co-author of the Simpson – Bowles Commission appointed by the current president to come up with a plan and path forward to help the nation get back on a sound fiscal footing. It was to include spending limits and controls that would address existing entitlements, a change in tax codes and the abolishment of selected existing tax breaks for special interest groups. Accordingly, It called for a sound fiscal plan that would get us into reasonable balance in 10 years.
As everyone knows, Alan Simpson (R) (82) is a retired senator from Wyoming and is known for his “frank” opinions and statements and in some ways seen as eccentric in some of his views. Erskine Bowles (D) (69), who was Chief of Staff in former administrations, is a respected Democrat and was an equal partner in putting this study and report together with supposedly high respect and influence in the Democratic Party.
The intent was for the current President to use their report as a road map to fiscal responsibility. This report was issued in 2010 and was quickly dismissed by the president as a non-starter prior to the election of 2012 based on it’s perceived political impact on his re-election.
When I saw Simpson today in the museum, I approached him to welcome him to the museum as a team leader since that is my job for the general public. Normally, VIP’s or “celebs” have Foundation escorts during these visits, but in typical Simpson fashion, he wanted to be just another visitor.
All volunteers wear the same uniform and have a prominent name tag for the public to see. Little did I know that when I approached him to welcome him, he would receive me as a long lost friend and it was Howard this and Howard that in typical politician fashion. After two or three minutes of asking about the library (which he loved) and how often we work and what days do we work and other small talk, I asked him for his assessment of our current national fiscal and spending problems and his view on the future efforts needed to turn the nation around.
I spent the next 15 minutes (just the two of us) listening to him expound on his view of our future. His first answer was that with this president we will never make progress. He then related a story that when Bowles and Simpson requested time with the president to urge him to seriously consider their report, he was stunned by the response (as was Bowles).
The president told them that he would take no action on any of the Commission’s recommendations and explained his rationale in the following way – prior to his re-election and probably after his re-election he would do nothing. Simply put it was a pure political decision. He stated that to accept reductions in the growth of entitlements would alienate his base and he would only look at the tax increase side of the recommendations after the election.
He further added that to accept the recommendations would give the Republicans a victory as seen by the voters and he was not ever going to do that now or ever. He was adamant that he wanted more spending and more taxes and that he would pursue that course throughout his administration until his last day in office.
Stunned by that answer, Bowles asked him if he would do what’s right for the country and exert some leadership to save the nation’s fiscal future. Obama’s response was that he would let the next president worry about the spending and debt, but he was going to spend and tax and re-distribute wealth throughout his term.
Both men were furious and after spending 1.5 hours with the president, they left in utter dis-belief. Bowles, thinking that he could have some credibility with the D’s in the House and Senate tried to gather some influence with that group and was quickly advised that the Obama agenda would go forward at all costs.
In one desperate attempt to get some traction, Bowles thought that if he went to see the president without Simpson being there, he could have a more meaningful result. That effort resulted in the same answer as they got the first time and that meeting was closer to the election and was dismissed as untimely and unnecessary by Obama.
The end result is what we are now seeing each and every day. Bowles and Simpson believe that this president is not interested in anything except his political agenda.
About this time Simpson’s wife joined us and we talked for few more minutes as she reminded him that they had a plane to catch and they had to move along.
In summary, I should not have asked my questions given my role of a neural docent, but as an American I wanted to know his thoughts. I was stunned that he would be that candid with a perfect stranger, but knowing Simpson it has been typical of his behavior over his career.
These are the reasons that volunteering at the Bush Center make life in America bearable for me at this time. I thought you might want to see this insight from an experienced Washington insider. He was candid and as he left he said, “Don’t expect anything good for America until this guy is gone”.