Pressure is growing on the White House to fire one of President Obama's co-chairmen of his deficit commission after he sent a verbally abusive e-mail to a seniors advocate last week - and opponents warn he had discredited the entire commission's work.
Women's groups, senior citizen advocates and Democratic members of Congress say they are disappointed that the White House has not moved to dismiss former Sen. Alan Simpson after the Republican vulgarly described Social Security and accused the seniors advocate of "babbling into the vapors."
With Democrats already preparing to try to make Social Security cuts an issue in November's elections, the comments have given new life to those who are worried the deficit commission is headed that direction. Democratic candidates already are using Mr. Simpson's remark in fundraising appeals.
The White House did not return messages from The Washington Times seeking comment, but a spokeswoman told reporters last week that Mr. Simpson will not be fired - angering some who should be among Mr. Obama's supporters.
"The problem lurking over all of this is President Obama. I find it deeply disturbing that he has not fired Alan Simpson," Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said Friday. "President Obama should have stepped up and said, 'I know women elected me to this office, and I know Simpson has gone beyond the pale and needs to be removed.' "
In an e-mail Monday to Ashley Carson, executive director of the Older Women's League, Mr. Simpson blasted her for a newspaper column she wrote earlier this year in which she attacked Mr. Simpson for sexism and arguing that cuts to Social Security will hit elderly women particularly hard.
In his e-mail, Mr. Simpson said he has spent his career trying to protect Social Security, but went on to question whether Ms. Carson knows how to read graphs, called her attacks "crap" and told her to get back to him "when you get honest work." He also described Social Security as "a milk cow with 310 million tits."
In a follow-up e-mail sent Wednesday from a trip he was taking in Yellowstone National Park, Mr. Simpson apologized for the "anguish" he caused and acknowledged his history of controversy, saying he has "had my size-15 feet in my mouth a time or two."
The apology was posted on the commission's website. But it was not accepted by feminist groups and a growing number of members of Congress. Still, it's not clear how much their anger will achieve.
One test will be whether any of Mr. Simpson's fellow commission members call for him to go. None had done so by Friday.
Republican congressional aides said targeting Mr. Simpson doesn't make sense, since the commission doesn't have much choice but to look at Social Security - particularly with the other constraints on the commission.
Mr. Obama has said he won't raise taxes on individual taxpayers making less than $200,000 or on families with incomes less than $250,000, and he and Congress have already sliced money out of Medicare payments in this year's health care overhaul.
Republicans fear the commission will propose tax increases, while Democrats are trying to head off any effort by the commission to change Social Security benefits or delay the eligibility age.
Now, thanks to Mr. Simpson, the commission is becoming a campaign issue, with the Democratic Senate nominee in Kentucky, Jack Conway, using the incident in a campaign fundraising plea last week, and Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat and a leader of House liberals, saying it will provoke voters to go to the polls.
Mr. Grijalva also said he's seen a shift in support from members of Congress, and said he thinks Congress would defeat any effort to alter Social Security.
The commission, expected to produce a report after November's elections, is only advisory, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, have said they will bring the recommendations to their chambers' floors for votes.
Still, in order to make recommendations, 14 of the commission's 18 members must agree - and with six members, including Mr. Simpson, appointed by Mr. Obama, another six appointed by congressional Democrats and the final six appointed by congressional Republicans, there are plenty of avenues for gridlock.
Part of the debate is over the extent of the Social Security problem. On a conference call with reporters Friday, feminist groups said the program is in good shape and that it is not the main driving cause of short-term deficits or long-term debt.
"We all know what drives the deficit. Virtually the entire deficit over the next 10 years is caused by the combination of the economic downturn, the Bush tax cut and the two wars," said Kim Gandy, vice president of Feminist Majority.
Because of the economic downturn, Social Security is taking in less in payroll taxes than it is paying out in benefits. The program is expected to be in the red through 2011, then rebound for several years, then go back into annual deficits in 2015, according to the program's actuarial report released earlier this month.
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