When it comes to fixing things in my home, I hail from the Woody Allen school of repair. I try something twice. After that, I start to hit. When it comes to my car, I often ignore it and hope that it goes away - sort of like many Americans when it comes to the fiscal spending crises in Washington.The budget-depleting hulks known as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security comprise about 40 percent of a much larger fiscal contagion that threatens to literally break the national bank as the Baby Boomer generation begins the retirement process.
But, like odd noises in their transmissions, many folks are ignoring it. Not the least of which are the cadre of Democrat and Republican presidential candidates, who appear to have offered little or nothing to stem the inevitable tsunami of red ink.
The nation's auditor general, however, wants the problem to be a front-and-center campaign issue. Over the past several months, David Walker has organized the "Fiscal Wake-Up Tour," a quasi-road show that features the auditor general and several think tank analysts exhorting the nation to recognize the pending crisis and generate enough of a groundswell that the candidates have to address it in their policy platforms.
According to Walker, the annual budget deficit was $248 billion in fiscal 2006, down from a high of $413 billion in 2004. The good news is that Congress is projecting a balanced budget by 2012. The bad news is that those numbers merely spackle gigantic holes in the process.
First and foremost, the figures rely on borrowing from Social Security's trust fund. However, as demand rises, the surplus that exists today will be gone in 10 years. Without the surplus, Walker has pointed out that the deficit would have ballooned to $434 billion. Then there's the pesky problem of the interest payments and entitlement programs.
Interest on the national debt alone is the fastest-growing budget category, at $227 billion. Add to that the aforementioned trio of entitlement programs. By the GAO's estimates, the aggregate cost of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security exceeds projected revenue by more than $50 trillion over the next 75 years. To put it another way, that's roughly 95 percent of the net worth of every American.
I saw the genesis of Walker's whistle-stop campaign when he addressed the New York State Society of CPAs at their annual election and awards dinner and threw out debt projections that made the mileage from Earth to Pluto seem minute by comparison. He has appeared on 60 Minutes and a host of other shows warning of the looming fiscal crisis.
I can't speak for anyone else, but never has an odd noise from my car suddenly stopped without the benefit of a repair. The same, unfortunately, can be predicted about the looming fiscal crises. This is one wake-up call where the country cannot afford to hit the snooze button.
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