Reforming entitlement programs, improving health care, revamping the tax system and reducing defense spending were all up for discussion and debate last week as hundreds of people attended two Fiscal Solutions Tour programs in California.
The tour, conducted by The Concord Coalition and supported by The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, is scheduled to bring experts with different perspectives to six cities around the country this fall.
A program Thursday night at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco included an extensive discussion of Social Security, considerable agreement on the need for additional health care reforms, and some differing views on the wisdom of raising additional tax revenue. More than 200 people attended the program, which is scheduled to be broadcast by radio stations around the country in a week-long period starting Friday, Oct. 1.
Michael Boskin, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, argued that tax increases would harm the economy and cited Europe’s high taxes and economic difficulties as evidence. But David Walker, president and CEO of the Peterson Foundation, replied that the fiscal gaps in the United States were so large that some tax increases would be needed along with substantial spending restraints.
Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at Brookings, said the nation could not afford to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts, and she called for additional energy taxes. Several panel members expressed interest in a value added tax (VAT) although Boskin worried that it might be used simply to finance new spending.
Asked about the president’s bi-partisan fiscal commission, Concord Executive Director Robert Bixby emphasized the importance of budget reforms in Congress and the critical need to address entitlement spending that rises each year even without congressional action. “Two-thirds of the budget is on auto-pilot,” he noted.
The following day Bixby, Walker and Sawhill were joined by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of The American Action Forum, at a lunch program attended by about 120 people at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose. Among other topics, he detailed problems in the nation’s health care system, which he said was fragmented and offered no incentives for high-value, high-quality care. He said this year’s health care legislation did not do enough to control costs.
The next stop for the Fiscal Solutions Tour will be this Thursday, Sept. 30, in Des Moines. For additional information on that program click here.