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Business Officer Magazine

A National Moment of Truth

As debate over the U.S. debt ceiling heated up on Capitol Hill, former Wyoming Republican senator Alan K. Simpson offered reflections on the nation's political turmoil during his keynote address in Tampa on Tuesday.

"The moment of truth is here," Simpson said. "Where does the tipping point come for this nation? Many families have already reached that."

During 2010, Simpson and Erskine Bowles co-chaired the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which proposed a six-part plan to restore fiscal restraint and balance the federal budget. The plan recommended reforms to Social Security, Medicare, the Department of Defense, the tax code, and more.

The commission spent its first three months just trying to establish trust among its members, said Simpson. "You simply can't succeed as a legislator unless you learn to work with the other side. You have to learn to compromise with each other without compromising yourself.

"The coin of the realm for me is trust, but our country's shimmering coin of trust is severely tarnished."

Senators in the Gang of Six worked on turning some of the commission's plan into legislative language but it failed, he said. "The reason is that comity has disappeared. [Legislators] don't see each other; we're all out fundraising day and night. Everyone worships the great god of reelection."

Simpson said the November 2010 elections were about cutting spending, but "that will get us about 5 percent savings. We can't get anywhere without doing something about the big four," which are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and defense. Furthermore, "we've never had less revenue to run a country since the Korean War. We can't get there without revenue."

In Simpson's view, "We forget too much. We forget our greatness and our role in the world. We forget our strengths, our blessings, our roots in escaping religious tyranny, and the fact that we freed our slaves.

"Let's be more tender with ourselves. Let's be slow to judge others and swift to defend the weak. Let's remember we're part of a pretty damn fine experiment called America."

Return to the conference's main page.