Fiscal commission's Alan Simpson takes on both parties, Obama

And Simpson, who co-chaired the fiscal commission with Erskine Bowles, reiterated that top Republican lawmakers need to keep more of an open mind about finding ways to reduce the deficit through the tax code. 

Congressional Republicans have generally said they are not interested in including tax increases in the deficit-reduction discussion. But Simpson said that Republicans should be interested in getting rid of some of the tax credits and deductions — such as one for home mortgage interest — that he said disproportionately help high earners.

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“Those are spending by any other name,” said Simpson, referring to those so-called tax expenditures. 

“If the Republican Party is stupid enough to fall for the bait that reduction or elimination of tax expenditures is a tax increase, then this is a dull-witted party,” Simpson added.

The former senator, not known for holding his tongue, has engaged in a back-and-forth in recent months with Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader who was critical of the debt panel’s approach and has said that the elimination of a credit or deduction is a tax increase unless it is paired with a corresponding tax cut. 

Simpson’s comments came shortly before Biden was scheduled to convene the latest installment of debt ceiling talks.

With the Treasury Department saying the debt limit needs to be increased by Aug. 2, most accounts have the Biden talks going well. For instance, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader and a participant in the discussions, praised Biden’s stewardship of the talks on Monday. 

Simpson — whose commission employed a mix of spending cuts and an overhaul of the tax code to reduce deficits — also told the audience Tuesday to that any serious plan to get the nation back on track would need to closely look at entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) and the defense budget. 

He added that the best hope for finding such a deal would be through the Biden talks or through the Gang of Six (or “Five Guys”) now using the commission’s report as a guide. 

“If they can’t get it done, it won’t get done,” Simpson said. 

As for the president, Simpson continued to criticize him for inviting Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the architect of the House GOP budget, to an April deficit-reduction speech where he ripped the Republican approach.

“He talks about bipartisanship, the president here in the city, and goes to a fundraiser and just savages Ryan,” Simpson told The Hill after the breakfast. “And that’s just poisoning the well.”

Simpson — who likes to remind audiences that Ronald Reagan was no stranger to raising taxes during his eight years in the Oval Office — also told The Hill after the breakfast that he would like to debate Norquist about the best way to attack the country’s fiscal challenges. 

“Anywhere, anytime,” Simpson said. “Night or day, four in the morning, midnight. Any forum — you name it — but with a person asking all the tough questions.” 

Norquist, who was critical of the debt panel for using tax reform as a way to decrease deficits, has slammed past big deficit reduction deals, including one hashed out on Reagan’s watch, for raising taxes while not reining in spending. The anti-tax pledge administered by Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform has been signed by more than 95 percent of congressional Republicans.

John Kartch, an ATR spokesman, told The Hill that Norquist would be up for a debate, but that it would probably more appropriate for him to take on another frequent critic, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

"If there was a proper venue and media outlet, that would be fun," Kartch said. 

Norquist also told The Hill in an interview last week that he was essentially an easy target for people like Simpson, who want to raise taxes against the American people’s wishes.

“When they say Grover Norquist they’re saying the taxpayer movement,” Norquist said. “If you’re Alan Simpson, do you really want to say the American people wont let me to raise taxes?”

Norquist and Coburn are set to have the latest episode in their quarrel on Tuesday, when the Senate votes on a Coburn-sponsored amendment on ethanol subsidies. 

This post was updated at 5:59 p.m.