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David Walker, the prophet of deficit doom, and his sermon to save America

Alice Rivlin, Joe Antos, David Walker and Robert Bixby are bringing their message of spending-reduction and tax-increase to the public in a cross-country tour.
Alice Rivlin, Joe Antos, David Walker and Robert Bixby are bringing their message of spending-reduction and tax-increase to the public in a cross-country tour. (For The Washington Post)

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Walker wants to be that kind of Former. In his words, "the dark-suited preacher in rimless glasses spouting facts, fire and brimstone." Walker's Former-ship began with running billionaire Pete Peterson's foundation and is now occupied with heading a more broadly focused, Peterson-supported organization called the Comeback America Initiative. In both roles, Walker's message centers on the national debt, now more than $14 trillion, and spills into outrage over the federal budget deficit, pegged at $1.5 trillion.

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But Walker's real fire comes with the projections about the cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Those programs - "based on historical taxation projections," he adds with a certain reverence for the fine print - along with the huge cost of paying interest on the national debt, could consume the entire federal budget as soon as 2025, he says. That would leave no money for, well, anything else.

"America's future is threatened," Walker likes to say.

And it's our own fault, he says - Americans spend too much and save too little, and our politicians engage in "intentional obfuscation," not to mention promising more than they can responsibly deliver. But Walker's not through there.

The Social Security Trust Fund? "A scam," he says.

Federal tax policy? Full of "tricks."

Politicians? "They play all kinds of con games."

Things are so bad, Walker says, that he compares the United States to the Roman Empire before its shattering decline, or - for a more current example - he says we're "less than three years" from a financial crisis similar to the one happening in Greece. Once he's rolling, he'll slam Obama for having a "Wimpy" tax policy, a nod to the character in the "Popeye" cartoons who would say, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."

Americans need to understand that the fiscal crisis is comparable, he says, to a "burning platform. . . . If you stand still, you will be consumed."

Walker is in full sermon mode when he steps out of the Georgia Public Broadcasting studios, holding forth on the explosive growth of Medicare costs. Two law-enforcement vehicles await, ready to race him and his fellow apostles of the apocalypse at VIP speed through Atlanta's infamous traffic snarls to reach their next appearance.

Bixby considers the scene for a moment and - never one to miss an opportunity to reinforce his broken-record point - he deadpans: "You know it's reached a crisis when there's a police escort for a deficit chart talk."

Phil Smith, the Atlanta-based national political director of the Concord Coalition, which has been footing the bill for the solutions tour, boosts Rivlin onto the running board of the van - it's too far off the ground for the 5-foot-tall Rivlin.


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