I have previously written in this column about the destructive spending practices of the federal government. I recently came across the text of a speech that David Walker, the Comptroller General of the United States, gave to an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) audience on September 8. Please give serious attention to the following excerpts from his speech.
“…in the past six years alone, our nation’s total liabilities and unfunded commitments for Social Security and Medicare have grown from $20 trillion to over $50 trillion, of which about $8 trillion relates to the new Medicare prescription drug program.
“In 1996, Medicare and Medicaid represented only about 1 percent of the federal budget. In 2006, they represented 19 percent and their portion of the federal budget is on the rise. In addition, Medicaid represents the fastest growing cost for most states.
“We are increasingly relying on foreign investors to finance our debt since Americans are great spenders but poor savers. Being able to borrow from these foreign players helps us in the short term. However, relying on them to the extent that we have will serve to increase our fiscal risk and reduce our international influence over time.
“…in fiscal year 2006 only 38 percent of the federal (budget) was for discretionary spending and the rest of the budget was on autopilot.
“While the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs are important and will not go away, they do not relate to functions that are expressly reserved for the federal government under the Constitution. These social programs are important and they are here to stay. However, they are unsustainable in their present form, and the sooner we make changes, the fewer changes we’ll have to make to keep them solvent, sustainable, and secure for both current and future generations of Americans.
“The plain but simple truth is that a status quo path for our federal government is imprudent, unsustainable and arguably immoral. As George Washington once said, we should avoid ‘ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden that we ourselves ought to bear.’
“We need to bring back tough budget controls, tougher than the ones we had in the past. We need to improve transparency in connection with current financial reporting and budget processes. We also need to engage in several key reform efforts, including comprehensive Social Security reform, health care reform, and tax reform, just to name a few.
“In the end, we will need to generate more revenues as a percentage of the economy than has historically been the case. However, there is no way we can or should rely primarily on additional revenues to solve our long-range fiscal challenge. Entitlement reform and spending constraint will also be essential for us to succeed.”
Perhaps the Comptroller General was stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be revisited. The problem is, our governmental leadership at all levels is inept at dealing with the fiscal problems. In fact, they continue to make the situation worse. Both major political parties want to spend more. One wants to increase taxes heavily to continue the spending, while the other wants to use the flimsy magic wand of revenue growth as an excuse for expanding the spending addiction. Both are sealing the fate of our children and grandchildren.
Our nation cannot sustain the current spending practices of our governments. To solve the problem, we have to look in the mirror and realize who is making unaffordable demands on government and who continues to elect weak-kneed leaders who whistle down the dark street while economic disaster approaches.