A former U.S. senator long known for his candor and sharp wit, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, is the 2017 winner of the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award.
The award, along with the Philip Pistilli Silver Veterans Award for valor and distinction in wartime, will be given at the annual Truman Good Neighbor Award Foundation luncheon on May 9 in the Imperial Ballroom of the Downtown Marriott-Muehlebach Tower in Kansas City.
Simpson, who served three terms from 1979 to 1997 and 14 years in the House before that, was noted for his emphasis on fiscal issues. He also co-chaired a high-profile national commission that five years ago recommended sweeping changes to make taxes simpler and fairer and to get the federal government on track toward a balanced budget.
The May 9 luncheon is also the 65th Annual Birthday Luncheon honoring Truman. It began in 1953, just after Truman left office, as an event organized by his Kansas City friends to honor him. The Good Neighbor Award was instituted in 1973, the year after Truman’s death.
The award has gone to a president (Gerald Ford), a vice president (Nelson Rockefeller) and a Supreme Court Chief Justice (Earl Warren). Simpson is the 12th U.S. senator to receive the award. Last year’s honoree was Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who was his party’s nominee for president in 2008.
Simpson, 85, was at the Truman Library about three months ago for a discussion about civility in politics. He said Truman could explain complex issues in a way people could understand, and he said the country has no such leader today.
As for civility, Simpson said the country has paid a steep price for today’s coarse politics and the focus on personalities over policies. He said Democrats controlled Congress for so long from the 1950s to ‘90s that abuses were inevitable and that when his own party took charge, it indulged in excesses of its own.
“They were zealots. A zealot is one who, having forgotten his purpose, redoubles his efforts,” he said, drawing laughter from the Truman LIbrary audience.
He stressed the need for checks and balances in the American form of government.
“When they disappear out of emotion or arrogance or trickery, democracy suffers,” Simpson said.
The former senator also conceded his frustration over the fact that the budget commission he helped lead presented large changes that went nowhere in Washington. Those ideas included freezing federal pay and cutting the federal workforce through attrition, cutting farm subsidies and other assistance to corporations, raising the retirement age, lowering tax rates but closing loopholes, and curtailing the deduction for interest on home mortgages.
“We hit everybody,” Simpson said. “The pain is too great, and the lobbyists are too powerful.”
He said national debt will reach a tipping point at which interest rates and inflation start rising.
“And the guy that gets screwed,” he said, “is the little guy that they talk about day and night.”