WASHINGTON, D.C.—"Of all the introductions I've received, that was the most recent," former Sen. Alan Simpson remarked as he took the podium Monday at the American Hospital Association's annual membership meeting. Simpson gave a wry, often laugh-out-loud review of his work on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a nonpartisan panel appointed by President Obama to come up with a strategy to reduce the nation's debt.
Simpson, a Republican, led the panel along with Democrat Erskine Bowles. Their plan was unveiled in December and immediately set off a fury of condemnation from all points along the political spectrum. It recommends, among other things, significant changes to entitlement programs as well as a three-tiered income tax and tweaks to corporate taxes. The White House response up to now has been muted to say the least, but speculation here in Washington this morning is that the Simpson-Bowles proposal will, in fact, be the basis of the deficit reduction strategy the president is slated to unveil tomorrow.
Of all the government spending issues his commission tackled, Simpson said, "We found health care to be an absolute monster. It's the biggest fiscal challenge that our nation will ever see." If Americans are serious about getting the federal budget under control, "you can't get there without cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security," he declared. "Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fraud."
Criticism of Medicare and Social Security reform is "bilious babble," Simpson said, noting that 10,000 baby boomers retire every day, the average life expectancy has climbed from 63 to 78 since Social Security was introduced, and as of May 2010, Social Security paid out more than the amount put into the program.
But balancing the budget can't happen by cutting alone, he said. "Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times. Why do you think he did that? To keep the government running."
Simpson said his commission's plan was "written for the American public" in plain English and is just 67 pages long. You can read it here.
I've heard a lot of interesting speakers and had conversations with a lot of attendees from hospitals around the country during the AHA annual meeting. Many of the issues discussed revolve around generational issues, including aging patients, physicians, nurses and hospital leaders. I'll share some of what I've heard in that regard on upcoming Tuesdays in this space.
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