David Walker comes straight at you with critical facts and concrete ideas for addressing them.
The problem is much worse than the current fiscal year federal deficit ($1.4 trillion to $1.5 trillion) and much worse than the current national debt ($14.7 trillion). The biggest part of the problem is “what’s off the balance sheet,” mostly the federal promises of future retirement and health care benefits that exceed the projected future ability of the government to fund them. Put all the liabilities together, says Walker, and you get $62 trillion, which calculates out to $530,000 for every household in America, and rising at record rates.
What to do, according to Walker, who spoke at a luncheon Tuesday of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce:
Federal spending needs to go down. Taxes need to go up. The promises of future benefits from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security need to be brought into balance with our willingness and ability to pay for them. We need to spend less on the military. In the short run, we might need to spend to stimulate the economy, but the program needs to be part of a credible, balanced, long-term program to get long-term revenues and long-term liabilities closer to balance.
The national debt doesn’t need to be paid off, but — measured as a percentage of GDP — it needs to come down, steadily and for a long time. As currently constituted, our political system has been taken over by ”wingnuts.” It needs to be changed if America is to tackle the challenges described in the first six sentences in this paragraph. If those challenges are not addressed, America’s best days are behind us.
Our fiscal future: CLICK TO ENLARGE
Translation: We need to do everything that will make the situation better and stop doing everything that is making it worse. His shtick is a virtual compendium of ideas that one major party or the other would like to rule off the table.
Who is David Walker:
Appointed to various positions by presidents of both parties, Walker spent 10 years (1998-2008, appointed by Bill Clinton) as comptroller general of the United States. In that capacity, he launched a “fiscal wakeup tour” to alert the United States to its unsustainable fiscal path. Apparently, we didn’t wake up, since everything fiscal has gotten worse. I first covered him during that tour and was captured then, as I have been ever since, by his blunt, nerdy Cassandra act.
Since leaving government, Walker has worked with or founded various foundations and other public initiatives to continue warning America of the fiscal cliff off of which it is driving. He currently heads the Comeback America Initiative, and is one of the founders of the non-partisan “No Labels” organization, which focuses on urging the country to rise above partisanship in the common interest.
Walker has the mind of an accountant, the speaking style of a military briefer, but the secret soul of a crusader. “I’m a patriot who is good at math, and quite frankly we need more of them,” he said yesterday in St. Paul.
I’m determined to keep this shortish, so I won’t exhaust the list of Walker’s prescriptions, but I’ll give you this taste of his bipartisan political criticisms:
“Washington has become a lagging indicator. It has waited until crises is at our doorstep before it acts, and when it does act it does so precipitously, without adequate due diligence, and without adequate safeguards to prevent the same problems from happening again.”
On the current 12-member (six from each party) “supercommittee” that is supposed to recommend measures that will trim a mere $1.5 trillion from the current projected deficits of the next 10 years, Walker said that if the committee can’t reach that pitiful goal, all of its members should resign from Congress. But, he noted, the prospects are not that promising. Of the 12 members, he said, “two voted against raising the debt ceiling, four voted against Simpson Bowles. None voted for it. And all six of the Republicans have signed the no tax pledge.”