David M. Walker's mission to convince voters and politicians to do something about the $70 trillion fiscal burden facing the country came to Pittsburgh Wednesday, where the former U.S. Comptroller General warned that a Greek-like financial crisis is only a few years away unless something is done.
Mr. Walker, who served under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said the $16 trillion federal deficit is only a small part of the problem. Add in unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare and the problem grows to $70 trillion and continues growing at a rate of $10 million a minute, or $14.4 billion a day, he said.
"The problem is much bigger than politicians are willing to admit," Mr. Walker said during a speech before the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown. "Government has promised too much, grown too big and waited too long to restructure."
Mr. Walker is CEO of the Comeback America Initiative, a privately funded Bridgeport, Conn., organization that promotes fiscal responsibility. His stop here was part of a nationwide "$10 million a minute" tour that began Friday in Manchester, N.H., and is scheduled to end Oct. 9 in Washington, D.C.
By his estimates, the $70 trillion burden will grow by another $360 billion between now and the tour's end.
Mr. Walker says there is a better than 50-50 chance that Congress and the next president will agree on a solution to the problem, which he believes must involve spending cuts and tax increases. But those odds may change depending on the outcome of the November elections, he said.
He said that Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney both want to reach an agreement, but that "neither candidate has a credible and comprehensive plan to deal with the fiscal cliff and the structural deficits that lie ahead."
Mr. Obama says he has a plan, but he doesn't because Congress has rejected his budget proposals, Mr. Walker said in an interview. He faulted Mr. Romney for not being specific enough about his plan.
"We need more substance and solutions, especially in the debates," Mr. Walker told Rotary members.
The candidate who offers a plan for dealing with the deficit that is comprehensive, credible and fair would win a voter mandate to get Congress to act late next year, he said.
"The American people are a lot smarter than politicians realize," Mr. Walker said in an interview. "People can handle the truth. They're willing to accept tough choices."
He said conservative House Republicans and special interest groups that oppose any tax increases or who want to keep Social Security and Medicare off the table in budget talks are roadblocks to reaching a solution.
Revenue increases should be part of the comprehensive tax reform that would make more lower income people pay taxes and increase the effective tax rate -- the percentage of income paid in taxes after deductions -- for upper income taxpayers, Mr. Walker said.
"We cannot solve this problem without more revenue," he said. "We're not going to grow our way out of the problem. The numbers do not work."
He said failure to address the budget deficit and unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities will lead to a fiscal crisis in two or three years. The only European nation in worse fiscal shape than the United States is Greece, he said.
"We're not as great as we think we are," he said. "We must make tough choices. We need to make them starting in 2013."
Mr. Walker also called for political reforms, including changing the way Congressional seats are mapped out to prevent them from being gerrymandered to protect incumbents. He also favors term limits and replacing party primaries with open primaries that would pit the two highest vote getters -- regardless of party -- against each other in the general election.
He said the political system "is dominated by people who may or may not have had a real job and, once they get elected, they want to keep their job."
"What you have to have is political reform and extraordinary political leadership," Mr. Walker said.
Len Boselovic: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1941.