December 18, 2014

Fairness Among Generations Seen as Crucial Element in U.S. Fiscal Solutions

  • The national debt has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits. A deficit occurs in any year the government spends more...

Intergenerational fairness was in the spotlight recently as The Concord Coalition’s Fiscal Solutions Tour arrived at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In two programs on Oct. 22, tour speakers encouraged college students as well as older Americans to become informed and engaged in efforts to put the country on a better financial track.

The speakers as well as some audience members noted that the nation’s fiscal problems could have a profound impact on the lives of today’s young people – from the taxes they will pay throughout their working lives to their prospects for a comfortable retirement.

Despite the difficulty of the challenges ahead, the speakers gave ample reason for hope. “There are a lot of options available on the spending side of the budget,” said Eugene Steuerle, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “There are a lot of options available on the tax side of the budget.”

William Novelli, a Georgetown University professor, sounded similar themes on Social Security in particular, laying out a number of benefit and tax options that could help put the program on sounder footing. Novelli, a former CEO of AARP, stressed the importance of Social Security as  part of the country’s vital social safety net.

Robert L. Bixby, Concord’s executive director, noted that the aging of the U.S. population would put more and more pressure on the federal budget. For the first time since 1983, he pointed out, Social Security is taking in less money than it is paying out as more baby boomers leave the work force and start drawing benefits. Medicare, he added, already requires large amounts of general tax revenue.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of The American Action Forum, emphasized the need to slow the growth of health care spending, noting that it had consistently outstripped income growth on a per capita basis for decades. Continuing that trend in the coming decades, he said, would be “a recipe for financial disaster.” The American health care system, he said, should be better coordinated and more focused on the well being of patients.

David M. Walker, founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative, expressed concern that U.S. politics is currently “dominated by the wings – the far left and the far right.” He said that ordinary citizens in the political mainstream – “We the People” -- should take an active role in pressing public officials to take action before poor fiscal policies lead to a severe financial crisis.

With support from The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Fiscal Solutions Tour has visited five cities around the country this fall to stimulate public discussion of possible answers to the growing national debt and related problems. The tour’s next stop will be Nov. 12 in Chicago.