Federal budget policy and the fiscal health of the United States were discussed during a luncheon and town hall event hosted June 29 by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ office.
Guest speakers for both events included Robert Bixby, chief executive officer of the Concord Coalition, and David Walker of the Comeback America Initiative.
The two first spoke at an invitation-only luncheon, and then addressed the public during a town hall at the University of Arizona.
The focus of the discussions centered on closing the growing budget deficit and restoring fiscal sanity in Washington.
Walker led the discussions, saying several decades ago the country started straying from principle values such as limited but effective government, individual liberty and opportunity, fiscal responsibility and stewardship. Now, the country is in trouble, he said.
“This country did not run deficits and accumulate debt unless we were at war, declared war, a depression, recession or natural emergency, until about three or four decades ago,” he said. “We temporarily gained sanity in the ‘90s under presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton, who supported statutory budget controls that constrained discretionary spending. That expired at the end of 2002, and things have been out of control ever since. The last 10 years have been the most fiscally irresponsible years in the history of the United States and both parties are to blame.”
Walker estimated the U.S. is spending $4 billion more a day than they are taking in. In looking at mandatory spending, the country is about $2 billion a week short of being able to have enough revenues to pay bills.
Now, President Barack Obama and Congress are arguing over the debt-ceiling limit. The usual Fourth of July break was canceled as negotiations continue this week.
The Treasury Department has given lawmakers an Aug. 2 deadline to reach an agreement. The government reached its borrowing limit on May 16.
“The debt-ceiling limit is a bit of an anomaly. It’s an American creation,” Walker said. “Basically, when you end up making promises and commit yourself to certain things, you end up having to pay for it when the bill comes. The truth is we don’t have much choice except to increase the debt ceiling. But, at the same time we have to convince the American people that we are getting the fiscal house in order.”
If the debt-ceiling limit is not increased, the treasury secretary will have to start deciding what bills to pay and which debts will not get paid.
“Refusing to raise the debt limit is essentially refusing to pay your bill,” said Bixby. “It doesn’t make you responsible, it makes you a dead beat.”
From here, Walker said major decisions have to be made, and there should be an agreement limiting 2012 spending, reforms made to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and cuts made to defense and other spending without compromising national security.
“We have to do all of these things and more. It’s going to take a couple of years, but we need to get started soon,” he said. “The United States ranks 28th out of 34 nations on fiscal responsibility and sustainability. We are in a bad neighborhood. We are behind Spain. We are behind Italy. We are not exempt from the laws of prudent finance.”
To accomplish the fiscal responsibility required, Walker stressed it’s going to require lawmakers to work together instead of continuing to be partisan in politics.
Bixby agreed with Walker on the need to address the issue in a bipartisan fashion.
“There has to be a political compromise because neither side has a practical political reality,” he said. “Neither side has the votes to push their own agenda, and frankly, neither side has the public trust to push their own agenda. We are going to have to get back to some sort of willingness for parties to talk to one another.”
The bottom line is lawmakers will have to consider cutting multiple departments and expenses. They are also going to have to look at the revenue side and seriously consider some kind of tax increases, said Bixby.
“We are not just talking about numbers anymore. We are talking about a moral issue,” he said. “We are talking about the future of this country, and right now when you talk about the future for our children and grandchildren, it’s terrible.”
When asked how to make lawmakers start working together, Bixby and Walker said it’s going to be up to the public to become more educated and hold them accountable.
Bixby and Walker said the American public is going to have to make the political price of doing nothing greater than the price of a lawmaker working to solve a problem.
The two agreed young people need to get more involved, the media needs to start holding more politicians accountable for not taking action, and social networking needs to be utilized to educate the general public.
The Comeback America Initiative is currently funded by a three-year grant from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
The nonprofit Concord Coalition relies on its grassroots supporters for the majority of its funding. It is partnered with the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Brookings Institute and Heritage Foundation.