Alan Simpson reached out to a recipient of one of his angry letters on Tuesday night, insisting that he did not mean to personally attack Merton and Joan Bernstein but instead intended to send the letter directly to the Huffington Post.
The letter, dated June 2nd, was mailed to the Bernsteins in Massachusetts in response to a May piece they published in HuffPost. Simpson made news last week with an email in response to a separate HuffPost item by Ashley Carson, head of the Older Women's League, in which he disparaged Social Security recipients and called the program "a milk cow with 310 million tits!"
Simpson is co-chair of President Obama's deficit commission and calls for Simpson's resignation have mounted in the wake of his comment. The White House is standing by its co-chair and has accepted an apology he offered to Carson, though Carson herself is still calling for him to step down.
Merton Bernstein told HuffPost that he picked up the phone Tuesday night and the caller told him: "You don't know who I am."
"Oh, yes I do," Bernstein said he told Simpson. Bernstein, who was a senior consultant to the 1983 commission that reformed Social Security, said he used the opportunity to try to educate Simpson.
The commission, chaired by Alan Greenspan, reformed Social Security so that it could handle the onslaught of the pending baby boom retirements. Simpson was unaware of what the commission had done, said Bernstein.
"That's not true," Bernstein said of Simpson's claim -- which he has made in the past and repeated to Bernstein -- that the commission did not account for baby boomers. "They very clearly and explicitly addressed that issue. That's why they built in a surplus." Bernstein told him that he was in the room with Bob Ball and other commission leaders when they made the decision to account for the pending wave of retirements.
"Then why are they in such trouble now?" Simpson responded. Bernstein responded that they are not in fact in trouble today. The surplus is now over $2 trillion and is projected to reach $4.6 trillion.
"Well, don't you pay attention to the trustee's report?" Simpson responded, as Bernstein recalled. Bernstein told him that he does pay attention to such reports, and that the most recent report found that Social Security was in no worse shape this year than it was last year, despite the recession. The program is on track to pay full benefits at least until 2037, at which point most surviving boomers will be in their late 80s and 90s.
Bernstein also tried to explain to Simpson that his proposals to means-test benefits to restrict them to low-income seniors would not save money because of the high administrative costs of such an effort. "He didn't seem to understand that," said Bernstein.
The unsolicited note to the Bernsteins, provided to HuffPost, does not include contempt for Social Security recipients but does include aggressive language. "I was stunned that two people of your apparent intelligence and background could come up with such an extraordinary screed. Rather than going any further into any richer vocabulary than I would desire, let me just do one thing," writes Simpson, saying that he is including a presentation from Stephen C. Goss, Social Security's actuary.
Simpson also sent the presentation to Carson, indicating that he finds it highly significant, though little new is contained within it. Rather, it is a rehash of the annual trustee's report.
Meanwhile, Simpson should be happy: Carson, whom he told to get back to him once she'd found "honest work!" is leaving her job as head of the Older Women's League (OWL) to be a senior staffer at the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, was previously the chairman of that committee. Carson confirmed her new position to HuffPost but declined to comment.