If the United States ever defuses the debt bomb that threatens to implode our economy, one of history’s heroes will be David Walker, the former comptroller general who’s been sounding fiscal alarms for nearly a decade.
He won’t be the only hero, of course. A few Members of Congress have long made it their goal to ward off fiscal catastrophe — Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.).
And Walker has had bipartisan allies in groups such as the Concord Coalition, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Heritage Foundation.
Members of President Barack Obama’s debt commission, especially Co-Chairmen Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, will deserve a place of honor, along with the current “gang of six” Senators striving to put its recommendations into action.
The federal debt has now grown so huge and menacing that containing it is a major preoccupation of both political parties, but now ideological differences threaten to block action and continue the country’s vulnerability.
Conceivably, partisan differences could bring on catastrophe within months if there’s no agreement on raising the federal debt ceiling, leading the government to default on its payments to creditors.
In an interview, Walker — who moved from the Government Accountability Office in 2008 to head the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and now leads the Comeback America Initiative — outlined a framework for breaking that deadlock.
And he said that he will be out with recommendations in June for solving the nation’s structural fiscal crisis.
He said he fears that both Obama and Congressional Republicans are more interested in setting up campaign issues for 2012 than solving the debt problem.
“I’m concerned that, while I think Obama has the political advantage now for a variety of reasons, I think we’re going too early into the campaign and forgetting that people are elected to govern.”
(Obama’s advantage, he says, lies in having proposed a budget approach looking “more reasoned and reasonable” than both Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s spending-cuts-only plan and Medicare privatization, and the Democratic base’s preference for no entitlement cuts and only tax increases.)
To govern, Walker said the seven-member deficit panel appointed by Obama and headed by Vice President Joseph Biden should “focus like a laser” on “coming up with a deal on raising the debt ceiling with appropriate conditions.”
Republicans, as their price for raising the debt limit, are demanding passage of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget and a system of automatic spending cuts if government outlays exceed 21.5 percent of gross domestic product.
Democrats are talking vaguely about deficit “benchmarks.” Walker favors a “plan B for both parties” that targets federal debt as a percentage of GDP and, if it exceeds an agreed level, requires both spending cuts and a temporary tax surcharge to reach the goal.
He’d have the system take hold in 2013, leaving time for Congress and Obama to agree on a long-term budget plan.
Walker also thinks time is needed for the public to be educated about the debt crisis and accept realistic measures to contain it. Polls suggest majorities think deficits can be closed just by eliminating foreign aid and taxing the rich.