The longtime head of the Government Accountability Office says Washington is "out of control" and acting much like many ordinary Americans, that is, spending far beyond its means.
"We are in a $53 trillion hole. And that hole gets deeper $2-3 trillion a year automatically, even if you have a balanced budget," says David Walker, who ran the Government Accountability Office for 10 years, leaving his post in 2008.
"Honestly, since the budget controls expired on December 2002, I think Washington has been totally out of control," Walker tells The Wall Street Journal. "They've wanted guns, butter, tax cuts, and entitlement expansions."
Walker is now head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, whose namesake is the co-founder of the private equity giant Blackstone Group. Among its missions is educating Americans about the nation's disastrous finances.
Walker says the budget numbers we face today are, in fact, misleading.
"It's not today's deficits and debt levels that are the problem. It's where we're headed," he says.
"The problem is that we're heading in a wrong direction. When the baby boom generation starts retiring, that will bring a tsunami of spending that we are not prepared for."
The solution, he says, is simple, although painful. Tough budget controls, tougher even than we had in the 1990s, will have to be re-imposed.
Social Security, Medicare, and healthcare reform are absolutely necessary, although he says that neither candidate for president has addressed the problems in as serious a way as will be required.
Tax reform, too, will figure highly, although Walker did not specify what kind of tax reforms would work best.
Finally, Americans need to prepare for a cultural change in their attitudes toward money.
"I think the federal government is doing an extremely poor job of managing its finances, and unfortunately, too many Americans have been following this bad example, spending more money than they make, and mortgaging their future," Walker says.
"There has to be a behavioral change. … Americans are very prolific at spending and not very good at saving, and that's caused us to increasingly rely on foreign lenders to finance our deficits," he says.
"That's not in our long-term economic or geopolitical interests."
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