After visiting cities across the country this fall, The Concord Coalition’s Fiscal Solutions Tour wrapped up for the year on President Obama’s home turf in Chicago last week. The tour’s policy experts outlined the country’s deteriorating fiscal situation, underscoring the importance of informed public debate on how best to reverse that trend.
It was a timely exercise Friday, as draft proposals by leaders of the President’s fiscal commission were under a barrage of misleading criticism — much of it based on the assumption that the country can largely continue the status quo in fiscal policy.
We cannot do so, the speakers emphasized to business executives, civic leaders, college students, retirees and others in programs at the Union League Club of Chicago and the University of Chicago.
The policy experts said fundamental changes were needed in everything from Social Security funding to outdated defense programs, from bloated medical bills to lagging tax revenues. Among the many proposed solutions:
- The financial incentives for health-care providers as well as consumers must be changed to curb inefficiency, unnecessary treatments and unreasonable pricing, said Joseph Antos of the American Enterprise Institute. Currently, he said, “the incentives are all there pushing us in the wrong direction.”
- The government should make substantial spending cuts but also change the tax system — by closing loopholes, for example — to provide sufficient funding for the government services and benefits that Americans expect. Said Joseph Minarik of the Committee for Economic Development: “There is no realistic way to solve the budget problem without some new revenues.”
- Congress should revise its budget process to focus more on long-term challenges.
- Individuals should save more money. David M. Walker, CEO of the Comeback America Initiative, noted that the United States has the lowest savings rate among industrialized nations: “Too many people are living for today without preparing for tomorrow.”
- Americans should not assume that past levels of government spending and taxation will be sufficient to deal with future requirements, for example, to care for unprecedented numbers of elderly people. “What was past,” warned Concord Executive Director Robert L. Bixby, “is not necessarily prologue.”