Effort Publicizes Spending on Entitlement Programs
U.S. Comptroller General David Walker is leading the "Fiscal Wake-Up Tour" to inform voters about the rapidly increasing cost of entitlement programs and "generate enough grassroots anger to force the 2008 presidential candidates to discuss the problem," the Washington Post reports.
According to the Government Accountability Office's latest estimate, the projected cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will exceed projected revenue by $50 trillion over the next 75 years. At a recent tour stop in Tampa, Fla., Walker said that this figure is "95% of the net worth of every American," and "these numbers are going up every second of every minute of every day."
The tour is organized by the Concord Coalition and also features policy experts from the liberal Brookings Institution and the conservative Heritage Foundation. The tour has focused its efforts on early 2008 presidential primary states.
Walker said, "It's critically important that this becomes one of the major issues in the general election campaign." He added, "People are on the beach having a beach party while you can see a tsunami of spending on the horizon. And you've got people saying, 'Party on.' We're headed for very, very rough seas, like we've never seen before in this country."
No presidential candidate in either party has proposed a plan to radically change the trajectory of entitlement spending, but tour members argue that "the serious debate [on entitlement spending] will start next year when the field dwindles to two," the Post reports.
Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert Bixby said, "There aren't quick-fix solutions to this like cutting waste, fraud and abuse or relying on robust economic growth to do all the heavy lifting. ... We all agree that finding solutions is going to require bipartisan cooperation and a willingness to consider all options."
Tour members have suggested a number of ways to improve the outlook, including: balancing the budget in the near future, before it becomes more difficult; overhauling the tax system; and reducing entitlement benefits for people with high incomes or making them pay higher fees.
However, James Galbraith, a professor at the University of Texas-Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, argues that health care reform should be prioritized ahead of balancing the budget. Galbraith said that the tour is "strongly biased toward cutting services and against fees or taxes," adding, "These people are taking a sledgehammer to an existing system which has already got serious problems. And what they would do to it would make the health condition of the elderly and poor much worse."
Presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has proposed increasing taxes to provide health care to all uninsured U.S. residents, but deficit reduction would not be a priority of his, the Post reports.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) also have released health care proposals, "though both say they would place more emphasis on controlling the deficit," according to the Post.
Leading Republican presidential candidates all have said they would balance the budget and would not raise taxes (Montgomery, Washington Post, 6/21).
"Americans are sacrificing the future to the elderly-political complex," Gary Galles, a professor of economics at Pepperdine University, writes in a Baltimore Sun opinion piece.
"For all their talk about future generations, seniors' political groups are far more concerned about their short run than their heirs' long run," Galles writes, adding, "That is reinforced by politicians' bias toward immediate benefits and make-or-break issues for those who vote."
As a result, "rather than reining in Medicare's exploding liabilities, [seniors' groups] constantly push to expand their benefits, increasing the burdens they will leave their children and grandchildren," according to Galles.
Moreover, seniors' groups that support "every attempt to use government coercion" to lower the cost of prescription drugs "ignore the violation of others' property rights and the disastrous effects on their grandchildren, for whom the long-term effect of undermining the incentives to develop new drugs is far more important than forcing down current drug prices (which are high, in large part, because of government policies ranging from Food and Drug administrations' regulations to the tax code)," according to Galles (Galles, Baltimore Sun, 6/21).