WATERVILLE — “It was so cold in Cheyenne a couple weeks ago I saw a lawyer going down the street with his hands in his own pockets,” former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming, told a standing-room-only crowd while delivering the 2013 Mitchell Lecture at Colby College.
The comment came early in a speech that interspersed serious analysis of the nation’s debt with quips, humorous stories and curmudgeonly digressions.
Simpson, 81, known for his ability to work with Democrats, railed against overspending on the military, health care and Social Security. He also took aim at partisans on both sides of the aisle, Washington lobbyists and the AARP, whose positions he often stated in a mocking, quavering voice.
The George J. Mitchell Distinguished International Lecture Series brings a prominent world leader to Colby each year to give a speech on international affairs.
The series was begun to honor former U.S. Senator, statesman, and international negotiator George J. Mitchell, a Waterville native, who gave the first speech in the series in 2005.
Mitchell, a Democrat, introduced Simpson, and both recounted the times they worked with each other in Washington.
“We disagreed often, but we did so respectfully,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell promised at the beginning of his lecture to give his honest, unvarnished opinion.
“Pull up a chair,” he said. “We don’t do BS or mush, and we’ll tell you where your country is.”
In 2010, along with Democrat Erskine Bowles, Simpson co-chaired President Barack Obama’s national commission tasked with creating a debt-reduction plan.
Simpson painted a picture of the United States as a nation in fiscal crisis.
He said that the nation borrows $3.6 billion a day and owes $16.7 trillion, a number that includes private debt, such as mutual funds.
One culprit, Simpson, said, is military spending.
“If anyone tells you they’re hollowing out the defense budget, the only thing being hollowed out is your brain,” he said.
Part of the problem, he said, is the military industry, he said, which works to protect its profits against military spending cuts.
“Know that when Dwight Eisenhower told the American people watch out for the military industrial complex, he was speaking real language,” Simpson, a veteran, said.
He also targeted certain veterans’ benefits, much of which he said is spent on family members of veterans rather than the veterans themselves.
He said that “2.2 million people have their own health care plan. The premium is 540 bucks a year, and no co-pay. It takes care of all their dependents, and 85 percent of the money goes to nonmilitary connected people, i.e., their dependents, and the cost is $53 billion a year.”
He also devoted significant time to talking about health care costs.
“Health care is on automatic pilot. It has no cost containment in it whatsoever,” he said.
He also said the health care system is ineffective.
“It would be great if our health care really worked, but we spend double any other nation on health care, and our health outcomes are 25th to 50th,” he said.
Simpson said a major change needs to happen.
“We are in denial. We don’t deal with this, and what we are doing to our children and our grandchildren is downright cruelty.”
Other speakers in the series have included former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright; Harold Koh, legal advisor to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287