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Column: Alan Simpson deserves no presidential honors

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The 17 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom named recently by the Biden White House are, by and huge, distinguished Americans deserving of the nation’s highest civilian honor.

They embrace 5 social justice activists; leaders within the medical, labor expertise and leisure fields; and Olympic athletes.

As this stuff go, 16 out of 17 isn’t dangerous. But that seventeenth honoree — hoo boy, what a horrible blunder.

You do a complete disservice to America together with your group.

— Presidential honoree Alan Simpson to a Social Security advocate, 2012

He’s former Sen. Alan Simpson, Republican of Wyoming. He is certainly one of three ex-politicians on the listing, the others being former Rep. Gabriel Giffords (D-Ariz.), who after being grievously wounded in a capturing in 2012, based a nonprofit dedicated to stamping out gun violence; and the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Vietnam War hero and GOP candidate for president in 2008.

Simpson, 90, isn’t worthy of carrying their baggage — not theirs, not anybody else’s on the listing. In asserting the honour, Biden lauded Simpson for talking up in favor of marketing campaign reform and for marriage equality. He didn’t point out, nevertheless, Simpson’s lengthy marketing campaign to undermine Social Security advantages because the token Republican co-chair of an Obama-created fee on the federal deficit in 2010.

In that function, Simpson distinguished himself as a foul-mouthed, intemperate, obnoxious purveyor of misinformation about Social Security.

The fee’s inclination was to carry this all-important federal program into fiscal stability basically by slicing advantages. As it occurred, its proposals have been unable to attain enough assist from the panel’s 18 members, so it disbanded, unlamented, earlier than the tip of 2010 with out issuing any suggestions in any respect.

Simpson, nevertheless, continued to argue for profit cuts for years. Remarkably, he by no means responded to the a number of critiques of his concepts with cogent rebuttals. Instead, he attacked his critics with name-calling of essentially the most childish, vulgar selection, and with clear lies.

I tracked Simpson’s prevarications for years in print, ultimately receiving a bilious email from him during which he merely repeated the lies I had debunked.

This was like a reflex with Simpson. He disdained recipients of Social Security as “greedy geezers.”

(The common Social Security retirement profit as we speak is $19,455 a 12 months, a few notches above the federal poverty line. My back-of-the-envelop calculation locations Simpson’s congressional pension, which he grew to become eligible for after retiring from the Senate in 1997, at about $87,000 a year.)

After the Oakland-based California Alliance for Retired Americans organized a protest at an look that Simpson made along with his fee co-chair, Erskine Bowles, he known as their positions “a nefarious bunch of crap” and “bulls—.”

In an e-mail to Ashley Carson, then an official of the Older Womens League who had upbraided Simpson in the Huffington Post, he in contrast Social Security to “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” He closed the e-mail with the rudely dismissive signoff, “Call when you get honest work.”

To Max Richtman, then as now the president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, he asserted, “You do a total disservice to America with your organization… You know damn well what we have to do to shore up Social Security but since you make money pretty good by juicing up the troops, you’re not about to buy a bit of it.” Richtman was proper and Simpson was mistaken, as normal.

Simpson plainly regarded himself as a truth-teller on Social Security and couldn’t bear it that individuals who really knew one thing about this system have been calling him out.

Unfortunately, the lies that Simpson retailed nonetheless stroll amongst us, obstructing a reasoned debate about this system’s future. So it’s worthwhile to assessment them and reestablish the reality.

Simpson repeatedly argued that Social Security was by no means designed as a “retirement system.” He contended that the time period “retirement” appeared nowhere within the congressional hearings on the invoice, writing that he “reviewed the hearings … and never found the word ‘retirement’ in any of the early beginnings of the construction of Social Security.”

He challenged me, thus: “When you find the word ‘retirement’ in your vast research, either uttered by Labor Secretary Frances Perkins or Edwin Witte, head of the Committee on Economic Security, appointed by President Roosevelt in 1934, please share it with me.”

Too simple.

As I showed, the hearings have been shot by way of with quite a few references to Social Security as a “retirement” program by Perkins and Witte, in hearings earlier than each the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees, in addition to in the Committee on Economic Security’s report. (The transcripts and the report can be found on the web site of the Social Security Administration, in case you want to see for your self.)
Perhaps Simpson’s most dishonest declare was that Social Security’s drafters intentionally set the retirement age at 65 as a result of life expectancy in 1935, on the time of enactment, was 63.

In different phrases, Simpson claimed it was designed from inception to tear off working Americans. This is a slander of the social insurance coverage advocates who created this system and the legislatures and president who enacted it into regulation, and it’s demonstrably unfaithful.

Simpson was misinterpreting life expectancy statistics and their bearing on Social Security. To set the document straight as soon as once more: In the Nineteen Thirties, life expectancy at beginning was about 63. But that’s an artifact of excessive toddler mortality charges in that period, and utterly irrelevant to the fiscal well being or objective of Social Security.

What’s extra necessary is life expectancy at age 20, when Americans typically start their working lives and begin contributing to this system, and what’s much more necessary is life expectancy at 65, as a result of that defines the size of 1’s retirement and due to this fact one’s lifetime as a Social Security beneficiary.

Those who had reached age 20 within the Nineteen Thirties had common life expectations of almost 69, according to government statistics, and those that have been already 65 had common life expectancy of almost 78. Social Security’s architects knew this full properly and designed this system to accommodate it.

As Witte told Congress, “Whether a person works in a small establishment or a large establishment … there is one common characteristic, which is that everybody grows old, and they all have to make provision for their old age or somebody has to take care of them. … Whether you do it in the form of pensions, or in some other way, there is no way of escaping that cost.”

Simpson tried to justify slicing Social Security advantages by stating how this system had expanded since its authentic enactment in 1935. This is true but additionally irrelevant. The expansions, together with the addition of incapacity protection, have been enacted by succeeding Congresses and presidents — most of them through the administration of Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican.

Honoring Simpson with a Presidential Medal of Freedom seems to replicate President Biden’s willpower to achieve throughout the partisan aisle, presumably to slender the ideological divide in America. It’s not his solely misstep on that rating: A deal he apparently struck with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to place a viciously antiabortion judge on the federal bench in Kentucky in return for Senate approval of two Democratic U.S. attorneys in Kentucky has predictably, and correctly, infuriated Democrats.

But nothing can justify gifting Simpson with any honor in any respect. Simpson labored assiduously to undermine a program that’s the cornerstone of Democratic coverage and essentially the most profitable authorities program in American historical past. He did as a lot as any politician of his period to decrease the usual of public discourse. He was by no means capable of rebut the challenges made to his claims however stuffed the vacuum with invective.

If Simpson reveals up on the White House on Thursday for the medal presentation ceremony, he will probably be standing with many actual American heroes: Olympians Simone Biles and Megan Rapinoe; Giffords and Gold Star father Khizr Khan; New York crucial care nurse Sandra Lindsay, an inspiring determine within the combat in opposition to COVID-19; civil rights campaigner Diane Nash, an affiliate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and Denzel Washington. Three folks will probably be honored posthumously — Steve Jobs, McCain and former AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Next to them the cynicism and dishonesty of Alan Simpson will probably be positioned in sharp distinction. That his document is handled as honorable, relatively than hushed up and relegated to the trash bin of historical past, is a bitter commentary on heroism and distinction in trendy America.



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