Alan Simpson Revisited

According to The Wall Street Journal, President Obama will tap former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson "as co-chairmen of a bipartisan commission to tackle the mounting federal debt."

With Simpson's name in the in the mix, I thought it worth revisiting another interview I did about five years ago -- specifically the portion of my conversation with Simpson relating to his views on tackling long-term deficits:

Jonathan Singer: Looking at Social Security, the problem with Social Security, if you take the President's number the program's trust fund will be bankrupt in 2040 or so, at which point benefits will be cut by about a quarter. Medicare, on the other hand, the trust fund will run out within about the next decade. Is it time to focus on Medicare and Medicaid rather than Social Security?

Alan Simpson: No. That would be a real grave mistake. You'd better cure the lesser one before you go for the cancer. Go for the one that is lesser, because the figures are huge. Guys your age will be eaten alive in regard to money. So if they can't resolve Social Security, then don't even try to help Medicare if you haven't done anything on Social Security.

It's not clear whether Simpson's views today are similar to what they were in 2005 when we spoke -- that is, whether he believes it makes more sense to tackle smaller bore problems before addressing the more difficult issues -- but it might be worth it for the White House press corps to ask the question. Presumably Simpson does still agree with with his earlier sentiments on appointing a Commission to take on challenges Congress has been unable to successfully tackle. Here's Simpson on a Social Security Commission:

Alan Simpson: I said [to the House Financial Services Committee], "gentlemen and ladies, you'll never get that done on this end. You'd better appoint a commission and take the heat off yourselves, because you're never going to make it yourselves."

Again, it's not clear that Simpson believes today exactly what he believed five years ago -- but it's nevertheless interesting to get a sense of the perspective with which he approaches his role as co-chairman of President Obama's deficit commission.

Birch Bayh Revisited

Five years ago this month, I had the chance to speak over the phone with Birch Bayh, the father of retiring Democratic Senator Evan Bayh and a former Democratic Senator in his own right.

The elder Bayh was a progressive lion and a legislative heavyweight. The list of bills he penned is too long to detail here, but it includes two constitutional amendments (the 25th, on Presidential succession, and the 26th, lowering the voting age to 18), Title IX (mandating gender equality in higher education), and the Bayh-Dole Act (amending the nation's patent laws).

At a time when progressive legislation is stalled in the Senate, and the momentum for positive change built up during the 2008 campaign appears to be waning, I thought it worth reposting my interview with Birch Bayh -- which, by the way, includes a lengthy discussion of his son:

Jonathan Singer: When you were first elected to the Senate in 1962, your freshman class included notable liberals like Abe Ribicoff, George McGovern, Dan Inouye, Gaylord Nelson, and of course yourself. That group didn't arrive from nowhere, though. What was happening in the 50s and early 60s that helped foster your generation, and can it be replicated today?

Birch Bayh: Well, we'd gone through a period there after World War II, and some of those folks like Dan had served. I just missed it. But I think we had a spirit of optimism in the country. Certainly I think the election of John Kennedy and all he stood for was one that really was an inspiration. Of course somebody like Abe Ribicoff, he'd been doing a number of things, and Frank Church had come six years before. So I think there was a general feeling of optimism in the country that the sky was the limit.

I haven't lost that optimism myself, but I must say I'm very discouraged about it. One of the things -- you could speak to this -- if I were interviewing you I would ask you how many of the people on campus there are willing to expose themselves and do what is necessary to grind it out and get to public office and then work to serve the people while they're there. I don't know the answer to that question. I'm a little bit disturbed that there aren't as many as I would like.

But I'm also one that thinks that some of us who are older who have been around a long time and seen things come and go always tend to reflect on the "good old days" and look at our generation and the people that surrounded us, as if they were the ones that really had the energy and the idealism. I don't think that's the case.

I think we have a number of young people -- like yourself -- who want to make a difference. I'm not sure the numbers are as large because I think the burden of getting elected to public office at the national level has become astronomically expensive. That is a burden that a lot of young folks don't have the desire to, nor the capacity to really raise that kind of money. I think that's most unfortunate about our Democratic system, that you're confining it to people who are either very wealthy in their own right or have capacity to gain access to large amounts of money.

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MyDD Interview with Bill Ritter

On Wednesday afternoon, I had the chance to speak with Colorado's Democratic Governor Bill Ritter, a candidate for reelection in 2010. During the interview, Ritter and I covered a number of issues, including clean energy, education reform, bringing new jobs to Colorado, and, of course, the politics of his reelection bid.

Overall, Ritter sounded very much like another successful Colorado politician I interviewed for MyDD several years ago -- Gary Hart -- in framing his reelection bid not as a choice between left and right but rather as a choice between the past and the future, a choice between looking backwards and looking forwards. This rhetoric served Hart well both on the statewide and national level, and has thus far worked will for Ritter. The following is a rush transcript of the interview:

Jonathan Singer: What do you see as the biggest issue people should be looking at in the Governor's race next year?

Bill Ritter: The biggest issue, I think, is how governors are able to create jobs, and the job creation that we're going to do is not just about job creation, it's about sustainable job creation, things that will last, things that are 21st century. And I think the biggest issue for us will be our success in doing that, being able to run on the things that we've already been able to do but how we're going to keep doing that. This is still just such a massive downturn. The protracted length of this recession is, I think, causing everybody to be concerned about 2010, and rightly so.

Singer: What are some of the measures that you're doing in Colorado to address the issue of jobs?

Ritter: We were already ahead of this, because we already thought that we had to do a better job even before the downturn of bringing in these 21st century industries, as I call them. On the energy side, that's the new energy economy; jobs in the energy world that involve renewable energy, that involve energy efficiency, that involve smart grid technology, that involve building out the transmission grid. All those are a part of it.

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Daily Pulse: [Audio Interview] Meet America's Biggest Anti-Health Reform Crusader

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

It was a roller coaster week for proponents of the public option. While the Senate Finance Committee rejected two proposed public option amendments,  four of the five health bills produced by congressional committees include a public option.  The next stage is to put those bills together in a process called conference, that results in a final piece of legislation that the House and the Senate will vote on. In this video clip, Marcy Wheeler tells VideoNation that progressives can continue the fight for a public option by emulating a tried and true Blue Dog strategy: Focus on building a bloc of votes, not on flipping the opposition.

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Daily Pulse: Adele Stan Talks Teabaggers (Audio)

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

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