Clint Eastwood wasn’t the only oddity to be unveiled last month at the Republican National Convention. At least he was memorable. The other oddity has already been forgotten. It was the two debt clocks unveiled by Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus on what should have been the first day of the Tampa gathering. One was for the total national debt, which is around $16 trillion, the other for the debt piled up during the convention.
Nice gimmick. Pity no one bothered to enlighten the conventioneers or the nation on the plans to do something about it. Aside from talk of a grand bargain to tackle entitlements and the debt, there wasn’t a lot of detail about how to go about it among Democrats in Charlotte, either. That’s why David Walker has embarked upon a 16-state bus tour to bring attention to the fact that the United States adds $10 million to the federal debt every minute.
“We’re trying to maximize the chance the debates will focus on the economy, jobs and fiscal responsibility with substance and solutions, so that the American people can make an informed choice about who to support and whoever wins will be able to say they have a mandate because they campaigned on specifics,” said Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general (1998 - 2008) whose passion for eliminating the national debt led him to create the Comeback America Initiative.
Walker is more specific about what he wants to hear from President Obama and Mitt Romney than either man has been willing to share. “I want them both to acknowledge that we have a short-term problem and a structural problem,” he told me last week. “I also want them to articulate what their goal is. What is their goal? My view is it ought to be 60 percent of debt to GDP by 2020.
“And how are they going to get there? I want them to acknowledge that everything be on the table,” Walker continued. “Renegotiate the social insurance contract, defense and other spending reductions, as well as comprehensive tax reform that would generate more revenues.”
So what specifically does Walker want to hear from Obama and Romney?
“President Obama has talked about comprehensive tax reform, but he’s talked about it in a way that largely builds upon the current, overly complex non-competitive system, which I think is a mistake,” he said. “Secondly, he hasn’t talked about Social Security reform in any meaningful way. Thirdly, we’re going to have to go back to health-care reform because he way over-promised and we haven’t done nearly enough to control costs.
“On the other side of the coin, Governor Romney has said he doesn’t want to reduce defense spending. We must reduce defense spending. And we can do that without jeopardizing national security,” Walker continued. “He talks about comprehensive tax reform, which we need, broaden the base, reduce the rates. But we also have to generate more revenues than the historical average if we’re going to solve this problem.”
Walker’s bus tour of (mostly) swing states started on Friday in New Hampshire. On Saturday, he was in Connecticut. Today, he’ll be at the Economic Club of New York. He’ll be in Philadelphia tomorrow, Pittsburgh on Wednesday and Ohio on Thursday and Friday. For Walker, this isn’t just about the debt. He wants folks to know about total U.S. financial burden, which stands at an astounding $70.4 trillion.
“It counts unfunded civilian and military pensions, retiree health care, unfunded Social Security policies, unfunded Medicare policies and other commitments and contingencies that are in the financial statements of the United States government but aren’t counted on the national debt clock,” he said. “The debt clock underestimates our problem. Our problem is much bigger. It’s getting worse very fast by doing nothing. We must have a grand bargain in 2013. We must.”
Yes, we must. But no matter who wins on Nov. 6, I still have serious doubts that Washington will be ready to finally get serious about saving the ship of state from the tsunami of red ink set to sink it. That being said, I would love to be proved wrong on this.