October 26, 2014

"Waking-Up" a Mile High

The Concord Coalition’s Fiscal Wake-Up Tour made its second stop in Denver on Thursday, drawing around 700 people of all ages for a day-long collection of events. 

The message of fiscal responsibility found receptive audiences as college students and others heard experts discuss the country's long-term fiscal problems and some possible solutions. The sense of concern in the audience was palpable, as was the frustration with government officials who have failed to take effective action.

Early in the day, nearly 300 Colorado college students participated in “Paying for America,” a student summit held at the the Cable Center on the University of Denver campus. (You can watch the summit panels here.)

They heard from a collection of budget experts, student activists, and filmmakers including: I.O.U.S.A. documentary filmmaker Patrick Creadon, and Wake-Up Tour speakers David M. Walker, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation;  Robert L. Bixby, Concord’s executive director; Isabel V. Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation. 

At the evening program for the general public, (watch it here) an estimated 400 audience members alternately nodded in approval and shook their heads in disgust as the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour panelists discussed the fiscal hole that has been dug – and bemoaned the digging that is still going on in Washington.

As the question-and-answer portion of the program began, dozens of hands shot up from people who wanted to voice their worries and ask about inflationary expectations, tort reform, corporate taxation, entitlement spending, tax reform and other subjects. Many expressed skepticism that the government would deal well with health care. One audience member said that although some older people were willing to continue working, often employers would not hire or retain them.

At the earlier student summit, too, frustration was in the air. One student complained about being saddled with “what sounds like a bailout for the baby boomers.” Another said the nation needed a “paradigm shift” to put the country on a better track: “We must really change our habits.”

Walker, a former U.S. Comptroller General, gave the keynote speech at the summit and delivered the bad news: “Young people, let me tell you: Things are being done to you, not for you.”

After hearing from Walker and other experts, the students participated in Concord’s “Principles and Priorities” exercise. They were asked to assume the roles of members of Congress charged with selecting ways to reduce the deficit.

“I think the students took it very seriously, “ said Richard A. Caldwell, co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies at the University of Denver.

The concerns expressed in the Denver programs have also been voiced by The Denver Post Editorial Board, which met with the Wake-Up Tour speakers last week. From the newspaper’s well-reasoned editorial on Monday:

 “The experts argue that research documenting the debt problem is extensive, and enough real-world ideas acceptable to economists both progressive and conservative exist to make the work doable.

“The time to act is now.

“We urge Congress to work immediately to address the structural problems in the nation's budget and put our economic house in order.”

The full editorial is worth reading.