WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama “walked away” from his bipartisan U.S. deficit-cutting commission’s plan “because he knew he’d be torn to bits,” said former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who was co-chairman of the panel.
Obama is “terrified” of the deficit issue, Simpson said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “He didn’t deal with it” in his annual State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 24.
Jamie Smith, a White House spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Simpson also said the Republican presidential candidates are “almost like robots” in their steadfast aversion to any taxes as a way to help shrink the country’s $1.3 trillion deficit.
He saved his sharpest criticism for Newt Gingrich, who served as House speaker during the end of Simpson’s 18 years in office.
“He caused us more pain,” Simpson, 80, said. “He was Newt first, Republicans second, country third.”
Simpson headed Obama’s commission along with Erskine Bowles, a White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. The $3.9 trillion, 10-year Simpson-Bowles plan included about $2.2 trillion in spending cuts, $673 billion in reduced interest payments and $1 trillion in tax increases.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers rejected it because of its mix of taxes and cuts in entitlement programs.
Simpson called it a “bizarre exercise” for Republicans in Congress to sign activist Grover Norquist’s no-tax-increase pledge.
The Republican presidential candidates “should have a little mark on the inside, ‘Grover Norquist Owns Me’ ” he said, calling Norquist “the most powerful man in the United States of America right now.”
A budgetary time bomb is set to go off at the end of this year when Bush-era tax cuts will expire, slashing the paychecks of all taxpayers. At the same time, $1 trillion in automatic cuts in government spending will begin taking effect in January.
The spending reductions were designed to be so draconian that they would force a budget-cutting “supercommittee” to agree on a plan for reducing the government’s trillion-dollar deficits. Like a succession of budget-reducing groups before it, the panel deadlocked last year over proposed tax increases and cuts to politically sensitive programs such as Medicare.
Simpson predicted Congress would find a way to continue avoiding the issue and the automatic cuts, known in Washington as a “sequester.”
“If it gets bad enough and howling goes on from the special interest groups,” he said, Congress “may even pass a law to get rid of the sequester.”
On immigration, Simpson said all four Republican presidential candidates seem anti-immigrant, calling it a “trigger point” issue in Florida, which holds its primary Jan. 31. At Thursday’s debate, Gingrich and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney traded insults about immigration.
“If you have 11 million or 12 million or 13 million people in the United States that are here illegally, you going to go hunt for them?” Simpson asked. “I don’t want to be part of a country” that does that.