On a 60 Minutes report (read or watch it) Sunday, March 4, David Walker, the Comptroller General of the U.S. (head of the Government Accountability Office) speaks frankly and frighteningly about the financial situation of the country. Essentially, according to Mr. Walker, with the aging and retirement of the Baby Boom generation, Medicare and Social Security will bankrupt the country within 35 years without quick action.
You can watch the video to see the argument. But the crux of the situation is that there are three options: 1) cut benefits, 2) increase revenues (taxes), or 3) ignore the problem, stay the course, and hope we can economically “grow out” of the tar pit (I bet you can’t tell which one I favor least). Cutting benefits is the wrong way to go as the developed country with the lowest percentage of citizens with health care coverage. Ignoring the problem is foolish. And that leaves us with the anathema that is raising taxes.
For too long, the responsibility has been put off. Although President Clinton balanced the budget, he didn’t plan for the soon-to-hit dramatic increase in costs. And the Bush Administration has severely exacerbated the situation with tax cuts (disproportionately to the wealthy), a prescription drug benefit that has no new source of revenue, and a war that saps $2 billion per week (and will continue to cost money after it’s over). Now that we’re at record deficits with no realistic “exit strategy,” it’s time for a leader who will acknowledge the problem and face it. S/he will have to make some unpopular decisions; if the phrase “no new taxes” is uttered, it can be followed by “send in the IMF.”
Taxes must go up in order to prevent the country from falling into insolvency (bankruptcy) within the next 50 years. Who will be willing to make this decision? Will it be the overly-business-friendly heir to Bush? Whom should we trust to make the tough decisions, tell us what we don’t want to hear, and implement undesirable, and sometimes painful changes? As much as Bush likes to compare himself to Harry Truman, he isn’t willing to make the really tough decisions. He’s more than willing to put hundreds of thousands of Americans in the crosshairs of terrorists, but he refuses to buck his big-business buddies and make real, meaningful changes at home.
The next President will have to deal with the solvency issue; the longer we wait, the harder it will be, and the worse the tax burden will become. Do we want another “businessman” for President, or a statesman?