Government Spending

Alan Simpson on Cutting Defense & Entitlements, Sparrow Belches in Typhoons, Green Weenies, & More


Here's former Sen. Alan Simpson, one of the co-chairs of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsiblity and Reform, talking to Candy Crowley on CNN, about the head-in-the-sand mentality still affecting, well, everyone in Washington:

"We're going to get rid of all earmarks, all waste, fraud and abuse, all foreign aid, Air Force One, all congressional pensions," said Simpson on Sunday in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union." "That's just sparrow belch in the midst of the typhoon. That's about six, eight, ten percent of where we are. So, I'm waiting for the politician to get up and say, there's only one way to do this: you dig into the big four, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and defense. And anybody giving you anything different than that, you want to walk out the door, stick your finger down your throat, and give them the green weenie."…

While many Republicans are still resisting cutting the defense budget, Simpson said that military spending needed to be addressed in order to seriously reduce the deficit. He said that the commission asked Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) about what they hear from the Defense Department about cutting contractors. "They don't know how many contractors they have," he said in amazement of the Pentagon. "It's something between 250,000 and a million. So, our proposal is to cut 250,000 contractors out of the game."

Simpson is right that the cuts have gotta start now and they've got to be bigger and wider-ranging than most pols of either party are wiling to consider or discuss. For the most part, the Dems either deny things are all that bad or want to increase revenue (taxes) to bring in more dough. Apart from all the other issues attendant to raising taxes, there's no reason to believe that increased revenues alone will balance the budget any more than killing revenue will produce a balanced budget (a.k.a. "starve the beast"). That's because spending is key. That, far more than revenue, is what fluctuates. As Veronique de Rugy and I wrote in this piece about balancing the budget without raising taxes, since 1950, federal revenues have been remarkably stable, coming in around 18 percent-19 percent of GDP. All past attempts to really jack that up (or lower it) have come to naught.

When it comes to Republicans, their reflexive defense of defense spending (not to mention the super-sacrosanctity of entitlements for relatively wealthy geezers) is virtually impenetrable. How else can you explain the argument by American Enterprise Institute scholars that small-government enthusiasts such as Sen. Tom Coburn risk turning the GOP into "a combination of Ebenezer Scrooge and George McGovern" by arguing that defense spending needs to be on the table?

Of course, Alan Simpson ain't perfect, that's for sure. Who the hell knows what a "green weenie" is (then again, he served with disgraced former Sen. Bob Packwood [R-Or.], so maybe it's a generational thing)? The commission's plan for fiscal sanity relied on federal revenues reliably settling north of 21 percent, something that hasn't ever happened at least since 1950. And you can retire the Republican out of the Senate, but you can't quite take the hawkish-sacrificer bent outta the Republican. Simpson again on CNN:

He also called for Americans to sacrifice more during wartime. "Let me tell you, guys, nobody's going to hurt the military," he said. "We're not going to hurt Iran and Iraq, but this is the first war, in our history, where we never had a tax to support a war, including the Revolution. And nobody has sacrificed in this country, nobody, accept the people in the military. And, in our report, we use words like sacrifice, self-sacrifice. We use words like going broke. And it's written in English. It's not written for pundits or parliamentarians or journalists. It's written for the American people.

Well, he's right that the actual folks fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the people who live in those misbegotten nations too) are the only ones who have sacrificed. The real point, though, is that we don't need to be sacrificing anybody or anything there. We need to get out, sooner rather than later. Yes, we should be paying for wars as they happen, not borrowing dough for that cause. But we don't need to be sacrificing at home in order to balance the budget or restore federal spending to, I don't know, 18.2 percent of GDP, the level it was in Bill Clinton's last budget. What we need to do is stop and/or cut the programs that have increased federal outlays by a whopping 62 percent in real dollars since 2001. As all of us who lived through 2000 can tell you, nobody was starving or dying or roughing it due to puny levels of federal spending as a percentage of GDP. The "sacrifice" needed to bring the budget into line with historical revenue levels is the sacrifice needed to downscale from a Mercury to a Ford, from flank steak to flat-iron, from unrestrainedly extravagant to restrainedly extravagant. Even with spending at 19 percent of GDP, we won't be anywhere near bone. That's the message of de Rugy and my "19 Percent Solution," which presents a way of balancing the federal budget incrementally over the next decade. A short version is here and the full-length case is made in the latest issue of Reason, on newsstands now (subscribe! a year is less than $20!).

Hat tip: Doug Mataconis at the great Outside the Beltway blog.

NEXT: America the Conservative?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. He sounds like a fat person rationalizing that extra milk shake. Come one, a few thousand calories is just a sparrow belch. It is not like I am going to be skinny if I don’t drink it. Great trick the liberals have there. Make the government so big that no matter how much you steal you can always claim “it won’t make any difference” when someone tells you to stop.

    1. Great trick the liberals have there.

      If it doesn’t fix it all at once then it ain’t worth doing.

      That’s why incremental steps are out of the question.

      Only several thousand page solutions are worth considering, because anything less doesn’t get the entire job done.


      1. This^.

        And they then have the gall to claim “the bill is not perfect”.

        1. They do the same thing with school choice. Since it doesn’t solve every problem, it is somehow not worth doing.

          1. Or cutting anything at all from federal spending.

            If it doesn’t magically balance the entire budget then it is not worth doing at all.

      2. Comprehensive reform or none at all.

  2. WTF is a green weenie?

    1. It’s a Hulk thing.

  3. “One leetle Waffer”.

  4. Notice, everyone has to sacrifice by paying bigger taxes. But Congress and the government doesn’t sacrifice at all. Fuck you Simpson. You were a piece of shit when you were alive.

    1. Do you know something we don’t?

      1. You mean Alan Simpson is still alive?

        1. As far as I know. Did the article give you any indication that he had died since making the statements in question?

  5. Let’s all call Simpson mean names!

  6. sparrow belch in the midst of the typhoon

    Isn’t that a Japanese pron movie?

  7. Never waste the power of the Green Weenie

    1. In Simpson’s case, since he prefaces “green weenie” with the visual of sticking your fingers down your throat, I believe he is referencing projectile vomiting (as if one had just eaten a “green weenie”)

      1. Must admit, that’s what I thought, too.

        A vile notion of bile motion.

    2. The Terrible Crying Towel has remained popular with Steeler fans for over thirty years.


  8. Is that Alan Simpson’s corpse or James Carvell in that picture?

    1. Nah, I think Carville looks like someone else.

      1. I think Dennis Miller had it right when he said, “Carville is the only snake oil salesman that actually looks like a snake!”

  9. When it comes to Republicans, their reflexive defense of defense spending (not to mention the super-sacrosanctity of entitlements for relatively wealthy geezers) is virtually impenetrable.

    I like how “virtually impenetrable” means “proposed by several, one of which we’re going to give you an example of in the next sentence, but unfortunately not a majority.”

  10. A congressman – one who says he wants to reduce military spending – recently told me there are not enough contractors. He gave me several examples of Boeing and Lockheed sub-contractors who provide electronics – by having to sell replacement parts and upgrades through Boeing the costs double or triple. Said Congressman says the Pentagon could save a bundle by dealing direct with the manufacturers instead of procuring everything through the weapon system

    1. I think they’re talking about a different kind of contractor. You’re referring to companies contracted to provide material to the military. I think they mean contractors vs. employees.

      1. Not to say that I think that employing that many more folks directly by the gov’t is a good idea.

  11. That actualy makes a lot of sense dude, Wow.

  12. I love it when the elites of this country, people who are at no risk ever of really sacrificing anything, tell the rest of us to sacrifice for the good of the country. Simpson has spent his entire career suckling at the public tit and will ride off into the sunset secure in the fact that taxpayers have ensured he will never have to worry about his health care or having roof over his head or where his next meals are coming from.

  13. “we won’t be anywhere near bone”

    No, but they’ll do everything in their power to make it appear so, in order to dupe the public into allowing them to carry on with business as usual.

  14. If only one wafer thin mint would cause my federal government to explode.

    On second thought, I’d better tone down my violent rhetoric.

  15. Rach, seems you are stymied with Alan statement, “stick you thumb (should had said finger) down your throat and give them the green wienie”

    Well, what Alan was saying is, ~ gag yourself to throw up what you had to recently swallow and reward them with a “nothing” award.

    Good girl!, you got the “Green Wienie” correct ~ It’s a “giv’me” medal for just being present and nothing more, a commendation award.

    I love your show

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.