National Press Club

Walker Calls for Commission to Make Tough Budget Choices

January 13, 2010 | By Mark Schoeff | mschoeff@workforce.com

When President Obama gives his State of the Union speech in February, he must begin preparing the country for tough decisions on federal spending by endorsing a budget commission, according to a former federal official who has forged a reputation for sober analysis of the country’s fiscal challenges.

In a Jan. 11 Newsmaker, David Walker, former U.S. comptroller and former head of the Government Accountability Office, warned that structural deficits caused by entitlement spending have left the United States “dangerously dependent on foreign lenders” and threaten the ability of Americans to achieve their full economic potential.

At an event sponsored by the Newsmakers and Book & Author committees, Walker introduced his new book, “Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility.”

Walker pointed out that the U.S. budget deficit is $1.4 trillion, or about 9.9 percent of the economy and 10 times bigger than it was in 2007. In December, Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling by $400 billion to $12.39 trillion. The debt is expected to increase by $9 trillion over the next decade.

The best way to address the problem, Walker said, is through a commission that would make recommendations on reducing federal spending. Like a similar panel that made decisions on closing military bases, Congress could approve or reject the proposals. Several members of Congress have endorsed legislation that would create a budget commission.

Walker said it’s possible that Congress could be allowed to amend the budget directives, as long as they still achieved the necessary savings. The important thing is that the process is established by law and that Congress acts on the recommendations.

“It needs to be a statutory commission, not one done by the president,” said Walker, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “We need a vote.”

Some senators are resisting the notion of an outside body having influence on a congressional prerogative like the budget. Walker said that making progress on something as tough as cutting spending requires a new approach.

“We can’t without presidential leadership; without extraordinary processes and without all of us understanding that we have to make decisions that will require shared sacrifices,” Walker said.
With $40 trillion to $50 trillion in unfunded Social Security and Medicare promises coming due soon, the day of budgetary reckoning is imminent, Walker said. Addressing the challenge will require a combination of reforming entitlements, raising taxes, cutting spending and increasing economic growth.
“We’re going to have to make progress on multiple fronts,” Walker said.