As Florida voters considered their options in the Republican presidential primary, a forum Thursday at Jacksonville University featured experts on the federal budget discussing some of the fiscal issues that should be on center stage in this year’s elections.
Mel Martinez, a former U.S. senator from Florida, emphasized the importance of political courage and a willingness of political leaders to work together to deal with the difficult fiscal challenges facing the country. So far, he said, they had fallen short.
“We need to achieve compromise to get things done,” said Martinez, who is currently chairman of Florida, Mexico, Central American and the Caribbean for JPMorgan Chase & Co. as well as chairman of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.
Martinez also discussed some of the challenges facing Florida, including the excessive levels of individual debt.
David M. Walker, CEO of the Comeback America Initiative and former Comptroller General of the United States, discussed the need to reform the big entitlement programs that are projected to claim more and more of the federal budget in the years ahead.
Walker, an alumnus of Jacksonville University, also called for cuts in other domestic and defense programs, enactment of health care reforms and improvements in the federal budget process. Like Martinez, Walker said many political leaders were failing the American public.
“There is not a party of fiscal responsibility today,” Walker said.
Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition, noted that Congress had spent far more in the previous decade than had been expected, while at the same time cutting taxes. The combination turned what was once a large projected surplus into trillion-dollar annual deficits.
Projections for the coming decade, he said, were “quite depressing” because of the large gaps between government revenue and anticipated federal spending. Continued heavy borrowing would push up interest costs as well and perhaps leave the country increasingly reliant on foreign lenders.
Among the possible solutions, Bixby said, were entitlement reforms to lower future costs, spending cuts on annually appropriated programs, and changes in the tax system to raise revenue in a more economically efficient manner.
All three speakers praised the work of the President’s bipartisan deficit-reduction commission (Bowles-Simpson) and urged lawmakers to use it as a framework for legislation.