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david walker

Walker

DES MOINES | A former U.S. comptroller general urged Iowans Wednesday to nail down presidential candidates on how they plan to solve America’s national debt crisis, saying the problem can be solved with some tough choices but time is running out.

David Walker, who served as head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office for almost 10 years as well as comptroller general, told a financial conference the nation’s debt to economic output ratio is “heading into dangerous territory” that will require the next president to “focus on debt to GDP like a laser” in addressing the problem.

“The federal government has grown too big, promised too much, lost control of the budget and needs to restructure,” said Walker, a senior strategic adviser for PricewaterhouseCoopers with expertise in fiscal responsibility and accountability, government transformation and retirement security.

Walker noted the U.S. debt load has grown from $5.2 trillion in 2000 to more than $18 trillion this year, federal government spending has grown to 21 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and 68 percent of the federal budget “is on auto pilot” and projected to expand.

“Are we on a prudent and sustainable fiscal path? No, absolutely not,” he said.

“We need to defuse this ticking debt bomb,” Walker told a gathering hosted by a local financial services and management firm in partnership with First Budget -- a joint non-partisan initiative by Fix the Debt and The Concord Coalition to raise public awareness of the nation’s fiscal challenges and to encourage the 2016 presidential candidates to address them.

Walker said the pathway out of the debt crisis likely will require a combination of changes in the areas of tax policy, Social Security, health care and investments in critical infrastructure.

However, he told Iowans to be weary of presidential candidates who say the solution is to tax, cut or grow our way out of the problem, or to do it by eliminating waste, abuse and mismanagement -- all claims that “are bull” by themselves.

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Walker said Americans know the system is broken and they are willing to accept some tough choices if they’re part of a comprehensive plan that is principle- and value-based that will achieve an agreed-upon objective within a reasonable amount of time.

He said the goals should be to create jobs, restore “fiscal sanity,” secure Social Security and Medicare for another 75 years, and make the country energy secure by 2024.

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“We need to recognize that you can’t spend more money than you make forever, charging on the credit card, self-dealing your own debt, artificially manipulating interest rates and expect that you’re not going to have a day of reckoning,” he said. “As they say in Texas, ‘that dog don’t hunt.’ We have to recognize that time is not on our side.”

Walker said Iowans -- as residents of the lead-off state in the presidential selection progress -- can play a constructive role by demanding that each presidential candidate provide a preliminary framework on how they will address the nation’s fiscal challenges if elected in 2016.

He declined to endorse specific candidates but said the next president should have executive leadership and government experience with “a proven track record of actually getting things done on a bipartisan basis.”

“I don’t think there are many of the candidates that meet that criteria,” he said. “There’s more than one and there’s at least one on both sides of the aisle, but I think it’s a minority of the people who are running.

“I’ve led organizations in the private sector, in the public sector and in the not-for-profit sector. There are a lot of transferrable skills, but governing is very different,” he added. “It’s a lot tougher to make transformational change happen in government than it is in the private sector or the not-for-profit sector, and you need people who have demonstrated that they can actually do that because that’s how serious our situation is. We can’t be training on the job.”

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Comments: 515-243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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