Candidates routinely try to finesse this basic math test by focusing on how much their plan will reduce the deficit in nominal dollar amounts — often based on creative accounting practices and unreasonable assumptions that inflate their claimed savings.
The public should demand that the measuring stick for any deficit reduction plan be debt as a percentage of the GDP.
That’s just one criterion, however; the various plans fail on certain others as well.
At the same time, all the plans should be given some credit for at least talking about the need to address major social insurance programs and tax reform. But they lack enough specifics to determine whether they would make meaningful progress in addressing structural deficits while also maintaining a solid and secure social safety net.
For example, Obama’s budget does not include the necessary, significant structural reforms to Medicare and doesn’t even address Social Security. Conversely, while all the GOP plans suggest they would move toward a premium support model for Medicare, they lack details on timeline, how that model would work and what the effect would be on beneficiaries. And none of the plans are likely to be politically feasible in their present form.
We know our nation’s debt problems threaten our collective future. And we expect those seeking the presidency to share their plans for getting us out of this mess.
So what is the point of candidates putting forward plans that have little to no chance of solving our fiscal challenge? The exercise is pointless unless the American people demand the candidates come back to the table with plans that are feasible.
Otherwise, no matter who takes office on Jan. 20, 2013, he and our nation’s other leaders will not have provided the public with enough knowledge to make us ready for the tough fiscal choices that lie ahead — tough choices that are necessary to keep America great and to help ensure that our future is better than our past.
David M. Walker is a former U.S. comptroller general and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative.