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December 7th, 2005 HENRY STERN | News Stories
 

Don't Say You Weren't Warned

Top U.S. fiscal cop says act now on deficit, or financial disaster looms.

     
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David Walker didn't look anything like the beautiful but cursed Cassandra of Greek myth when he walked into WW.

And in fact, Walker—a 54-year-old bald, white guy who's considered the nation's top fiscal cop—stressed that he doesn't want to share the mythological character's fate of prophesying disaster without being believed.

Yet Walker, who as the country's comptroller general heads the U.S. Government Accountability Office, carried a very scary (and abstract to most of us who can't conceive of hundreds of billions of dollars) message during a visit last week to Portland.

His warning: America is heading for an unprecedented financial crash-and-burn, if the federal government doesn't stop spending more than it collects. And it will be his two grandchildren along with today's twentysomethings and teenagers who will suffer the most from that fiscal disconnect, Walker says.

"They will bear the burden if we fail to act,'' Walker said in a 45-minute interview. "They could face a tax burden two-and-a-half times higher than today.''

Walker made multiple stops in Portland as part of a national Fiscal Wakeup Tour sponsored nationally by the deficit-hating Concord Coalition.

So who's to blame for what could be an "Argentina scenario'' ahead where the U.S. government defaults on its debt, much of it held by foreign investors? So-called leadership in both political parties that leaves little room for a "sensible center," says Walker (no relation to WW's film critic).

Walker, who as GAO head reports to Congress, rejects laying the blame for growing deficits solely on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the costs of homeland security. He sees those as part of a larger spending problem that's not supported by current tax levels.

Pressed to assess President Bush's share of the blame in frittering away surpluses, Walker says, "Unless things change dramatically in the balance of this president's term, he's at risk of going down in history as one of the most fiscally irresponsible presidents.''

Walker contends today's federal deficits are much scarier than those piled up during the 1970s and 1980s because we face a "demographic tidal wave'' of retiring baby boomers who will place huge demands on Social Security and Medicare.

And don't believe anyone who tells you the economy will grow fast enough to churn out more tax money over time to cover the problem, he told listeners at Portland State University forum.

"We're on a burning platform,'' Walker says. "The status quo is not an option."

 
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