It may seem like an impossible endeavor, particularly in an election year, but the regional director of the Concord Coalition says the fight for federal fiscal responsibility must continue to avoid true crisis in the United States.
Paul Hansen was in Kalispell Thursday speaking at a Chamber of Commerce gathering and a Rotary Club meeting and visiting with the Daily Inter Lake editorial board.
He spoke about the nonpartisan coalition’s mission of advocating for “generationally responsible fiscal policy.”
The coalition was founded 20 years ago by Sen. Paul Tsongas, D-Mass., former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson with a commitment to educate the public about the causes and consequences of federal budget deficits.
Currently, the federal government is spending $1.1 trillion annually more than it collects in revenue, and the country is exporting about $2 billion per week in interest payments to other countries that have bankrolled U.S. debt.
“We are very insistent that we need to do something,” Hansen said. “Our nation’s financial situation is out of control.”
Generally, the coalition has taken a position of supporting the findings and recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission.
Those recommendations include capping domestic and military spending and reforming an expensive and inefficient tax code in a way that would eliminate about $1 trillion in tax preferences that favor specific categories of individual taxpayers, companies or industries.
The Concord Coalition, Hansen said, sees a pressing need to reduce health care costs, which now are at least twice as high in the United States as any other country.
But the most important component, Hansen said, is getting the public and lawmakers to realize the importance of restructuring “absolutely unsustainable” entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The country has $60 trillion in unfunded obligations associated with those and other programs, Hansen said, but making them fiscally sound is within reach.
With Social Security, for example, a modest increase in the retirement age and “means testing” — or excluding wealthy people who don’t need Social Security payments — would go a long way toward addressing the program’s problems, Hansen said.
An overall Simpson-Bowles type of approach would address a national spending and debt problem that Hansen and his colleagues at Concord regard as an “existential threat” to the country.
“We think there is a template out there for progress,” he said. “Concord believes compromise is going to be essential to the solution.”
A lack of compromise in Washington has been the biggest obstacle to addressing the threat, Hansen said.
Hansen said he has done exercises with groups of citizens, challenging them to find ways to achieve a $4 trillion, 10-year deficit reduction target, and 99 percent of the time they find ways to do it, although there is pain involved with some of the solutions.
In Washington, interest groups fiercely resist any painful solutions and lawmakers continue to pay heed to them, said Hansen, adding that it may take an undeniable crisis for Congress to take meaningful action.
“If we don’t deal with this we are going to see our crisis,” he said.