Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018
Business

Simpson was Bush's best friend in Congress. Few presidents have these confidants.

In the fall of 1990, Senator Alan Simpson encouraged his good friend to agree to a budget deal with many conservative victories, but forcing Congress to raise taxes in return.

President George H. W. Bush knew what the Wyoming Republican was asking him. Two years earlier, at his naming convention, Bush had given the arena a resounding ovation with a simple statement: "Read my lips, no new taxes."

But Bush trusted Simpson and other bipartisan negotiators. "Go ahead," he said.

Mr. Simpson, who retired from the Senate 22 years ago, recounted this fatal moment in a eulogy on Wednesday to the late President, an 11-minute tribute to humor and personal tales that only a true friend could live.

At that time, Simpson reported that a certain Washington archetype had withdrawn from the scene: Capitol Hill's best-ever presidential friend. Simpson met Bush for the first time in 1962 when his father, a new senator, was Prescott Bush (R-Conn.), Incumbent senator and father of the future president.

By the time Simpson arrived in the Senate in 1979, his family had already sold his home to Bush during his brief visit to Congress. Their friendship grew stronger as Bush held the position of Vice President and President for eight years, with each man pissing off each other in bad weather and applauding each other in good times.

Capitol Hill's trips to the White House have been numerous, and the trips to Camp David with their wives being thoroughly savored.

The five current presidents were sitting not far from Simpson, amid tears of laughter and despair. During his tenure at the Oval Office, none of them had a friend as close to Congress as Simpson to the 41st president.

Jimmy Carter's only tenure was marked by fierce clashes with his own party, which led Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) To take up a major challenge in 1980. Bill Clinton had a roller coaster with Democrats in Congress, which recanted from its strategy of triangulation to embrace Republicans on welfare and trade.

George W. Bush has brought several congressional Republicans into his inner circle, but has faced a revolt by GOP lawmakers in his last years for handling the war in Iraq and the Wall Street rescue. Democrats have always felt alienated from Barack Obama, neglected by a president who far preferred the time spent with his girls to socialize with lawmakers.

And there was President Trump, fresh out of a mid-term disaster during which he began his first press conference after the elections by listing the names of the Republicans that he deserved to lose because They were not loyal enough.

It is difficult to imagine, when the time comes, one of these men as a eulogy of a former colleague of Congress, and some lawmakers deplore this change in recent decades.

"From the president's point of view, you need real friends, and Alan was a real friend," said Senator Lindsey O. Graham (CS) after the service. "I do not know how you do this without a handful of people you can trust and who will be chasing you."

Sometimes this role can be linked to actual politics, as the legislator serves as an honest broker who can relay the signs of trouble to a president whose White House staff could block the concerns of an irritating congressman.

Sometimes the role is purely pure friendship, coming from outside the presidential bubble, to provide simple reassurance to work often described by previous occupiers as lonely and isolated.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan relied on Senator Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) For fellowship, the two cognates related as former Western governors. In the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy had his brother, Edward, confidant of the Senate, and before that, Benjamin A. Smith II, his close friend, appointed to occupy his seat in the Senate.

Most recently, personal relationships have been vested in the Vice Presidents: Richard Cheney (right), Joseph Biden (right) and Vice President Pence have been regularly present on Capitol Hill for the past 18 years.

But these are just not the same relationships like the one between Simpson and George W. Buisson.

The former senator recalled Wednesday a particularly difficult time for him at the height of Bush's popularity, after releasing Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation. It was about the same time that Simpson took the lonely cause of claiming cuts in mandatory programs such as Social Security and Medicare to reduce the federal debt.

The president scheduled a two-day weekend at Camp David and took Simpson on a walk, passing photographers whose photos of the popular president and unpopular senator were published in Sunday newspapers.

"George, I'm not indifferent to what you do. You're supporting your old duck friend hurt, "Simpson said.

"Yes, Al, the staff, told me not to do that, but Al, it's about friendship and loyalty," Bush replied.

They went together to the National Theater and debated the substance used in a six-foot vase in front of the president, until their wives plunged them back into the theater seats. They sang songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber at the White House, then invited the president to dispel the questions of the press by singing "Do not cry for me, Argentina".

"The press then wrote that he was finally losing his marbles," Simpson said, causing the Bush family to laugh heartily in the front row.

The 1990 budget agreement, which Simpson helped convince Bush to support, was passed by the Senate and then collapsed amidst a conservative rebellion in the House. For the government to continue to function, Bush has agreed to tilt the deal further to the left to get more Democratic votes.

This played a role in his defeat against Clinton in 1992.

But, Simpson said Wednesday, Bush has never regretted his decision. It was the right thing to do and he has always stayed true to his friend from Wyoming.

"You would have liked it on your side," Simpson said.

Every president should want someone like Simpson on his side.

Learn more about Paul Kane's archives, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

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