Take Off the Boxing Gloves and Make the System Work

Posted November 19, 2008 at 9:37am

Advice and counsel from one of the Old Guard who has “been there before” is not always delightfully and charitably received by a great number of present laborers in the legislative vineyard in Washington, D.C. But not being a faint-hearted guy, let’s set ’em up in the other alley (that’s bowling parlance) and let ’er rip!

[IMGCAP(1)]Now indulge me also in the use of a little boxing parlance. It’s time for the “heavies” — in or out of party leadership — to step out of the center of the ring. Go sponge some water on your heads. Take out the mouth guards, spit into the bucket, take off the gloves, and do a most daring and dramatic thing — shake hands and forevermore go to a neutral corner. The American people are waiting longingly for that and, more importantly, they are expecting it. All during this laborious and torturous campaign folks talked of “doing something,” “being about the nation’s business,” “working together,” “whatever happened to bipartisanship?” and “cutting out the silly bickering” (their words). My advice: Stop bludgeoning and start legislating!

These are lean times in the country, and yet there is a full plate in D.C.: health care reform, Medicare, the entitlements, Social Security, immigration, energy policy, high-level nuclear waste, foreign policy (i.e., opening or refreshing diplomacy with those who love us or hate us), North Korea, Iran, Syria, Latin America — all the bums and brigands — and yes I know, I’ve been called “naive” before (and worse).

But nothing is gained by giving anyone “the ice treatment.” It destroys marriages, it destroys friendships, it destroys relationships. By simply having a “dialogue” with all of the evil ones, what do you lose? By our showing up just to talk it is obvious that all of their “dear leaders” will go home and tell their brain-washed minions that “the Great Satan came scraping and begging to plead with us on his hands and knees and we rubbed his capitalistic nose in it.” Hell, that’s already what they’re telling their people! What’s new?

A quick comment about the “entitlements.” The very word itself is killing us. To think that just because you reach a certain age, and that regardless of your net worth or your income, you are “entitled” to bucks from the federal Treasury should give every young person a real shudder. Take a good look at that one. Ever hear of “affluence testing?” Yes, I know it’s a Commie trick. To get anything done here, we’ll have to sober up the 40 million members of AARP first.“Arp,” I call them — with guttural emphasis. They are not here on earth thinking of their grandchildren — but only how to get more discounts to their members on whatever they peddle, advertise or support.

On energy, stop looking around for scapegoats. It costs a ton and a mile of red tape to build a refinery, and we haven’t built one for years. It costs a ton and a mile of the same tape to build a nuclear reactor, and the permitting process will drive you goofy. Tens of thousands of metric tons of high-level nuclear waste sit under 60 feet of demineralized water at 106 reactors, and what do we do about moving it to a permanent repository before it might become (by accident) re-critical (i.e., hot)? Nothing.

Immigration. Don’t drag out the old flash word “amnesty” again. The issue is simple. If there really are 12 million or even 20 million people here illegally, then everyone damn sure honestly knows they are being exploited, often abused and expendable. You don’t have to give them citizenship, just get them on the track of some kind of fair and legal status in this great country and then process them in or out. Is an alternative to go hunt them down to get them out? Who wants to be part of that kind of dragnet in America?

And another note about affluence testing: Why should the wealthy beneficiary of Part B Medicare (it’s voluntary!) be paying only 25 percent of the premium while a working stiff in the kitchen at some swank hotel is paying 75 percent of it? You tell me.

As for Social Security — there is really only one way to solve it. Either increase the payroll tax or decrease the benefits (affluence testing might be one way). All the rest is B.S. Oh, would that we could séance up the shade of my old pal, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), to reconstitute a blue ribbon commission to either tweak or torture the present formula. And don’t get sidetracked by “private accounts,” taking off the cap or more taxing of benefits.

Enough! Work together, enjoy each other, talk together, break bread together and yes, laugh together. Give up taking yourselves too seriously — because, sadly, the American public doesn’t take you seriously at all. And that causes all of us in the Old Guard a bit of pain, too — because we love Congress as much as you do. Dull your combat skills and sharpen your collaborative skills.

Treat yourselves with a lighter hand, and for God’s sake, have a little fun while you do the often dreary and dry work of legislating. That’s what we all hired on to do — not posture, preen, prattle and pontificate. My mother taught me that “humor was the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life.”

And always be ready at all times and places to speak courageously and well of a pretty damn fine institution — the House and Senate of the United States of America. And (yes, I know it sounds corny) put America first — not the Democratic, Republican or independent parties, not the NRA or the ACLU first, not the NEA or AARP or management or unions or investment banks first. America first! So get on with the great democratic experiment. Make it work. It always has. God bless you.

Alan Simpson served in the Senate as a Wyoming Republican from 1979 to 1997.