Greetings from Atlanta! On Thursday (October 23) Executive Director Bob Bixby came to Georgia for a screening of I.O.U.S.A. on the campus of Emory University and a media interview with the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Many senior faculty and staff attended along with a great crowd of concerned students. Dr. Kenneth Thorpe was on hand and complimented the educational work of Concord and the movie. Dr. Thorpe is a well-known expert on health care policy and has gone back and forth working in academia and the federal government for years in several high-ranking positions.
For those of you who have seen the movie, you know the old soft drink Tab plays a bit role. So Bob, along with his beloved can of Tab, took questions from the audience (you can only imagine how many times we've heard jokes about "picking up the Tab" in relation to the national debt.. I've been as guilty as anyone). Since Atlanta is the home of Coca Cola (the creator of Tab), we have a surplus of the diet drink here!
Questions ranged from the serious and thoughtful to downright funny. One student asked if he and others who had foreign language skills should just uproot and move to another country! Bob responded that we needed him to stay here because otherwise it would be one less worker paying into the Social Security system and we need more young people, not less!
Since it is campaign season, a student asked if Bob and the Concord Coalition are supporting either Senator McCain or Obama. Bob responded that Concord does not and cannot endorse candidates. He went on to say that neither of their platforms are very realistic in terms of federal budget issues and that it will be extremely difficult for either candidate to try to make good on their jumbo sized promises. This was true before the recent $700 billion legislation and therefore it's even more difficult for those promises to survive now.
It wouldn't be an audience in Georgia if we didn't get a question about the Fair Tax! Since the sponsor of that legislation is from Georgia and a radio show host based in Atlanta often promotes it, we hear about it a lot in the field. Bob discussed that while moving to a consumption based tax could offer some advantages, (particularly in helping to improve our country's very poor savings rate,) most experts have determined the 23% tax rate that has been proposed would be far too low to cover current levels of government spending, let alone what we are scheduled to spend in the future. I know the folks at the conservative Heritage Foundation have looked at the specific legislation and don't support it, and almost all left leaning groups seem to be against it. Although it's not our primary issue area, it's an interesting debate. Bob made the good point that whichever tax system we have, we need to get a handle on long-term spending and have a tax system that brings in enough revenue to support the spending we want.
Bob made it clear to the attendees that the combination of baby boom retirees and increased health care costs presents some tough policy challenges for America. We have been through more stressful times before and gotten through worse situations, but we didn't do it by sticking our heads in the sand and doing nothing. We succeeded by coming together as a nation and making the difficult decisions for a brighter future.
Bob departed Emory to a round of applause as we whisked him off to the Atlanta airport for his flight back to Washington and an upcoming barnstorming itinerary that includes Miami, Columbus, Cleveland, and Concord, New Hampshire. Sounds almost like a presidential candidate's schedule!
--Phil Smith, National Political Director (based in Atlanta, GA)