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Washington slapped with harsh economic warning

Mark Mardell | 21:18 UK time, Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Alan_Simpson2.jpgThis baby ain't going away.

Everyone seems to agree that the hole at the heart of America's budget is a crushing problem for the country. Few can agree on what to do about it. A couple of men think they have the answer. But few like it.

So Washington's politicians were given a stark warning today by one of their own.

"The heat is on you. Poised outside this chamber are the denizens of darkness," said former Republican Senator Alan Simpson.

"Those are the groups waiting out there in the temples of this city waiting to shred this baby to bits."

Mr Simpson has made an extraordinary speech ahead of a vote on plans to deal with the hole in the US's spending. It would be easy to call this speech fierce and harsh, if it hadn't been delivered with a great deal of easy humour in the mild tones of your favourite granddad.

For me, that only added to the power of his words.

Mr Simpson, along with his colleague Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, are co-chairs of the president's bipartisan committee on fiscal responsibility. Their plan shares out the pain, and it has been greeted by howls of outrage from left and right.

The Sisyphean nature of their task is highlighted by the fact that this speech was given to fellow members of the committee who may well vote against the plans.

Think, then, how hard it would be to get the House or the Senate to agree to something so controversial.

"Erskine and I will not and have not pleaded with you to support this plan. We sincerely hope you will, but that is solely your choice. I have been on and seen so many of these commissions in the past that come up with directives and solutions that are pure mush, watery gruel. Not for us. Not this time. Whether we get two votes or 18 this baby ain't going away," Mr Simpson said.

He acknowledged that the plan may soon be buried in an unmarked grave. But he warned "this cadaver will rise from the crypt" when the vote comes up next year on raising America's debt limit.

He said that after the crises in Greece and Ireland, times had changed. The American people had changed.

"This is it. No more fun and games. No more smoky mirrors. They've wised up. They're mad. They're tired of the bluster and the blather and the ego and the BS that has worked so well for all of us, including me, a master of it. So yes, times have changed."

I am not sure if this will make the headlines. But it should. Whether the details of the plan are right, it is not for me to judge. But its importance lies in the fact that it is not a plan of left or right - but rather a bipartisan one. It was a speech that had an almost presidential ring to it from a mature, retired politician.

But it could probably only be made by a man who is not looking for votes or a job.


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