A Washington official dares to tell the truth
Washington is bankrupting future generations. The longer we wait to address the $9 trillion national debt and ongoing annual budget deficits, the more taxes our children and grandchildren will have to pay, says David M. Walker, comptroller general of the United States, head of the General Accountability Office and just about the only public official in Washington these days telling the truth about the country's fiscal situation. We're basically taxing future generations without representation (because they can't vote or haven't been born), which he says is immoral.
Walker was at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County yesterday in Catonsville on the road show he calls the "Fiscal Wake Up Tour" to shake America out of denial about where we are going. He was accompanied by people from different parts of the political spectrum: the deficit-hating Concord Coalition, the moderate Brookings Institution, the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. Walker himself, according to a New York Times profile, was once a conservative Democrat, then a moderate Republican and now is an independent.
This is the 24th state that the Wake Up Tour has called on. Walker has been on 60 Minutes and gotten lots of press. His audience at UMBC yesterday was largely made up of the people who most need to hear the message: young people whose standard of living will be hurt and whose taxes will rise because of the profligacy of the baby-boom generation. Some highlights from the session:
Walker: "If you want low taxes [in the future], then all the more reason that we have to act sooner rather than later." The longer we wait to address the problem either by raising taxes now or cutting benefits for Medicare and Social Security, he says, the higher taxes will have to rise for our children.
Walker: The present value of future unfunded liabilities for Medicare, Social Security and other plans is $53 trillion.
Walker: "You're supposed to leave the country not just the way you found it, but better prepared for the future. The baby boom generation is failing on that."
Walker: President Bush's Medicare drug plan and the way it was sold to Congress and the public was "unconscionable." The true, $8 trillion pricetag "was never calculated, disclosed or debated."
Walker: The $9 trillion national debt is much more important than the budget deficit. Through the miracle of compound interest on the debt, he says, it will eat up more and more of the country's resources.
Walker: Bush's commission to address Social Security was "a total waste of time" because it refused to rule out personal accounts, which was a deal breaker from the start.
Walker: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are "going to cost $2 trillion by the time we're done." [They're up to around half a trillion now.]
Walker: The biggest deficit in this country right now is "leadership."
Walker: If private corporations published balance sheets the way the federal government does, their leaders would go to jail.
All four panelsts gave impassioned calls for maturity and leadership from Washington. The country has to start paying for new programs without borrowing more money. There must be spending caps on new programs. Once programs reach a certain size there should be "mandatory reconsideration triggers" to make sure they don't swallow the budget. True cost estimates must be published. The budget process has to start looking forward more than five years or ten years at the most. The federal government needs to make full disclosure of liabilities the way industry and state governments do. We desperately need an independent, blue-ribbon commission to make hard budget choices the way the realignment commission makes tough choices on closing military bases. That would allow the chickenhearted Congress to avoid making the hard choices and merely vote up or down on the plan.
Why doesn't a White House that has injected politics even into the process of choosing federal prosecutors fire Walker tomorrow? It can't. He was appointed in the Clinton administration and has a 15-year term, which means he has great independence. Listen to him. People under the age of 30, especially, should be raising hell.