Hewing to Schwab’s new tradition of using advisors to introduce key speakers at its Impact conference, Rebecca Pomering took to the stage in San Diego Wednesday afternoon to welcome “two of my heroes,” former Sen. Alan Simpson and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
Pomering, chief practice officer at the wealth management arm of Moss Adams, positioned the appearance by the two veterans of Washington’s political wars as being “in the spirt of coming together for the greater good.”
In a session titled, “The Long and Short of It,” referring to Reich’s diminutiveness and Simpson’s lanky 6’ 7” frame, the two men from different political parties exhibited levity and erudition as they discussed the biggest problems facing the country.
First came the presidential campaign and a discussion of the candidates and the animus felt by many voters, a trope visited multiple times during their appearance.
Reich joked that since the current Presidential campaign has been “so polite and positive, it would be good to address all the issues” that haven’t been addressed by the major candidates, prompting Simpson to quip, “which is everything.” Turning serious, Simpson said the current political atmosphere constitutes “a heartbreaking time for anyone who learned the exquisite art of compromise. If you don’t know how to compromise on the issues without sacrificing yourself, you’re not worthy of running for councilman,” much less President of the United States, “or getting married.”
As for the biggest issue not addressed during campaign 2016, Simpson said it was the nation’s debt and deficit. You “can’t get anywhere … without addressing two-thirds” of the nation’s budget: the cost of health care, which he said is on “automatic pilot” and will result in a national debt of 20 trillion bucks” by the end of the decade.
Reich said that in his time in the Clinton administration, he learned that the nation’s fiscal problem isn’t so much the size of the debt itself, but the ratio of the debt (“the numerator”) to GDP (“the denominator), which is all “driven by the aging of baby boomers and health care costs.” Reich said that “the lesson I took away is that Medicare is the problem; Social Security can be relatively easily fixed.”
(Speaking at a meeting with reporters earlier in the day, Liz Ann Sonders of Schwab said “three of us sitting down at a table with a napkin” could “fix” Social Security, the real challenge is to address Medicare.)
Simpson agreed with Reich on the fixes, calling for the use of the more politically acceptable term “affluence testing” in measuring eligibility for Medicare rather “means testing.” After all, the former Republican senator from Wyoming said, “just because you reach a certain age, regardless of your assets or income,” you’re getting those Medicare benefits and “putting a great strain on the Treasury.”