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David Walker, the prophet of deficit doom, and his sermon to save America
"I used to be taller," she confides.
"Next time, I'll get one with a stool," Smith promises.
Bixby takes the front seat. "A cold Tab and a police escort," he says dreamily. "What could be better?"
The preacher in practice
Washington is a town of lapel pins. When you're running for something, there's the inevitable American-flag lapel pin. Members of Congress get official members-of-Congress pins. The lapel adornments confer status and transmit messages - I'm a patriot, I'm someone important, I'm presidential. (Obama generated headlines and debate when he was running for office - first by daring not to wear a flag on his lapel, saying he thought it had become a substitute for true patriotism, then by pinning one on again.)
Schooled in the ways of Washington, Walker employs the lapel as billboard approach. His pin says: "CPA."
At their best, Certified Public Accountants are more than compilers of numbers - they're translators, interpreting the fun-house-mirror contortions of American tax policy and charting a path for clients. And that's what Walker wants to be - a charter of paths. But he needed to leave office to do it. He needed to become a Former.
Now, he says, he's free to throw out proposed solutions to the nation's fiscal woes in a way that he couldn't as comptroller general, a job mostly attuned to auditing the government's books as head of the Government Accountability Office. (Walker, who is fixated with accountability, succeeded in changing the name while he was comptroller general from Government Accounting Office.) Out of office, he says he has more latitude to lean on Congress to take his fiscal advice.
So it was, in March 2008, that Walker gave up one of the sweetest deals in Washington. Ten years into his 15-year term, he quit his job as comptroller general. If he'd stayed for the full term, Walker would have been eligible for a lifetime pension about equal to his $170,000-plus salary. By quitting early, he gave up the pension, a decision he calculates could end up saving American taxpayers millions of dollars.
"I gave at the office," Walker, now 59, says over lunch one afternoon at a Legal Sea Foods in downtown Washington. He repeats the line at the Atlanta airport the next morning after arriving for the start of a two-day Fiscal Solutions Tour swing. Then again, that afternoon, in the van. He knows how to stay on message.
Walker's voice hints at his Southern roots - he was born in Alabama, then moved with his family to Florida, following the career trajectory of his father, a regional telephone executive. He has a round, prominent forehead and close-set eyes. Bald on top, he trims the stubborn holdouts of his blond hair tight behind the ears.
Walker tells people he's frequently mistaken for his friend, the similarly follicly challenged Christopher Shays, a former Connecticut congressman. To make matters even more confusing, Walker bought the Republican's house in Bridgeport, Conn.
Shays, Walker recalls, attended a party at the house last year for No Labels - a non-partisan political group Walker's been instrumental in forming. For fun, Walker recalls, Shays went around joking to guests - the ones who might be mistaking him for Walker - that they could take whatever they wanted.