The 112th Congress needs to pass a fiscal 2011 budget that takes a tough line on the base level of federal discretionary spending. After all, discretionary spending exploded from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2010 despite low inflation levels. Washington needs to reimpose tough but realistic statutory budget controls along the lines of those recommended by the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform, possibly as part of the legislation that will raise the debt ceiling limit.
After taking the above steps, Congress should move to reform Social Security to make it solvent, sustainable, secure and more savings-oriented. It’s true that Social Security is a much smaller problem than Medicare and that, absent from hitting the debt-ceiling limit, it does not face a near-term crisis as was the case in 1983. However, Social Security is now adding to our annual federal deficits and is underfunded by almost $8 trillion in current dollar terms. More importantly, Social Security represents the biggest opportunity to reform a social insurance program in a way that can exceed the expectations of every generation of Americans. It is an opportunity that we should not lose.
Congress should also move to create a Federal Transformation and Accountability Task Force to review and recommend ways to reprioritize and re-engineer the base of federal spending programs, tax policies, organizational concepts and operational practices. Based on my almost 10 years as comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office, it is clear that most the federal government is based on the 1950s. It’s time to make government more future-focused and results-oriented. This will require a special process with capable, credible and nonconflicted individuals with the courage to tell the truth and set the table for tough choices by elected officials.
Yes, we need to engage in comprehensive tax reform and a new round of health care reform. However, these issues will not be ripe before 2013. We should, therefore, take steps both within and outside Washington’s Beltway to prepare the way for tough choices and transformational reforms in these areas.
It’s show-me time in Washington. We need leadership, not laggardship, and results rather than rhetoric in connection with fiscal responsibility. The American people and our foreign lenders are watching.
David M. Walker, founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative, is a former comptroller general.