Traveling Economists Sound Alarm on Fiscal Crisis

While politicians in Washington, D.C., get their dukes up over spending bills, some policy analysts are taking the long view on the federal budget, and hoping you will, too.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the national debt — plus the obligations the federal government has promised to pay out in the future — equals $50 trillion.

To drive home how large that amount of money is, policy analysts packed up their PowerPoint presentations and hit the road, visiting lecture halls across the country to explain the breakdown of the federal budget. It's the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour, featuring policy experts from across the political spectrum.

The opening act is Robert Bixby of the financially conservative Concord Coalition. Also on board: Stuart Butler of the conservative Heritage Foundation; Douglas Elmendorf, from the left-leaning Brookings Institution; and David Walker, the Comptroller general of the United States.

The alarm the tour has spread across dozens of states in the past two years is this: If the federal Government continues its current course in the coming years the country will go deep into the red.

What's the biggest problem? Among these experts, it's Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — the promised future benefits for retirees and the poor and sick.

Controller David Walker says the government is spending every penny it takes in right now in Social Security taxes, and not saving the surplus to pay for actual benefits later. The rapid rise in health care costs is an even bigger problem, shooting up by more than 6 percent a year.

The Fiscal Wake-Up Tour is long on problems and short on solutions. That's by design. These budget experts have different ideas and opinions about how to solve the problem. But they agree that it is more important at this point to raise the alarm than it is to champion any one fix.

The Fiscal Wake-Up Tour is ramping up its schedule in the coming months, trying to crowbar budget issues into the agendas of the presidential candidates. If they can get regular Americans to think about the budget, and start asking politicians for a solution, these budget experts will be satisfied.

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