The Republican co-chair of President Obama’s Deficit Commission, former Sen. Alan Simpson, has been the subject of controversy recently following comments he made comparing the Social Security system to a “milk cow with 310 million tits.” Critics of Simpson’s comments took offense not only at his vulgar language but at his apparent belief that the Social Security system is in dire straits and may require cuts in benefits to stay solvent.
Now, Simpson has turned his focus to a different topic: veterans receiving disability benefits as a result of being exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. Speaking to the press, Simpson complained that these benefits run “contrary to efforts to control federal spending,” and even went as far as to say that “the irony” is that “the veterans who saved this country are now, in a way, not helping us to save the country in this fiscal mess”:
The system that automatically awards disability benefits to some veterans because of concerns about Agent Orange seems contrary to efforts to control federal spending, the Republican co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s deficit commission said Tuesday.
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson’s comments came a day after The Associated Press reported that diabetes has become the most frequently compensated ailment among Vietnam veterans, even though decades of research has failed to find more than a possible link between the defoliant Agent Orange and diabetes.
“The irony (is) that the veterans who saved this country are now, in a way, not helping us to save the country in this fiscal mess,” said Simpson, an Army veteran who was once chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“It’s the kind of thing that’s just driving us to this $1 trillion, $400 billion deficit this year,” said Simpson of the benefits. “It’s not that I’m an uncaring person, but common sense is the most uncommon thing in Washington.”
Given that the VA estimates that providing care for veterans exposed to Agent Orange would cost only $67 billion over the next decade, it is difficult to imagine why Simpson would see the program as prime for cost-cutting. If the deficit co-chair is really serious about cutting waste out of the government and tackling the deficit, there are far more attractive targets. Earlier this year, Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-MA) Sustainable Defense Task Force identified nearly $1 trillion in waste that can be cut from the defense budget over the next ten years simply by eliminating outdated Cold War-era programs.
Meanwhile, as the Center for Economic and Policy Research demonstrates with its Health Care Budget Calculator, if the United States were to move to a more efficient health care system — which could be done partly by offering an efficient Medicare-style insurance plan to all Americans, which commission member Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) advocates for — like those of our Canadian and European neighbors, our debt would virtually disappear over time.