Harry Zeeve of the Concord Coalition on the Debt, the Deficit, and Political Dysfunction

Last month, El Pomar Foundation’s Forum for Civic Advancement hosted Harry Zeeve of the Concord Coalition for a talk entitled, “The Debt, the Deficit, and Dysfunction.” Based out of Washington D.C., the Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to educating the public about the causes and consequences of federal budget deficits, the long-term challenges facing America’s unsustainable entitlement programs, and how to build a sound foundation for economic growth. With less than two weeks until the Super Committee’s deadline, the Concord Coalition’s message is perhaps more relevant today than ever before.

We asked Harry to sum up some of the key points from his presentation for those who were unable to attend. Here is what he had to say:

  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its fall report on the federal government’s long-term fiscal outlook, offering an array of alarming projections. For example, under the more pessimistic of its two basic scenarios, the government’s snowballing debt would mean that net interest costs could exceed Medicare spending a decade from now.
  • While fiscal reforms are possible in many areas of the budget, simply “cutting waste” is not a panacea. For one thing, government projections already assume an optimistic amount of waste reduction in the future. And political consensus on what constitutes waste is often lacking; what seems like waste to one person or organization often strikes others as an important government program. There’s no simple line item for “waste” that Congress or the President can cross out.
  • Two key factors are driving the projections of large budget deficits in the next decade and beyond: the aging of the population and the steady rise in health care costs. It will simply cost the government far more money in the future to provide Social Security and Medicare benefits for millions of baby boomers as they leave the workforce.  And despite many efforts, healthcare inflation will remain a significant problem for many years to come.
  • Neither political party has the strength and political credibility to force through its own program while ignoring the other side’s views. Politicians who pretend otherwise have repeatedly stalled effective action.
  • Bickering politicians often try to justify their resistance to fiscal reform by saying they are simply representing the views of their constituents.  That’s often just an excuse for timidity and inertia. But American voters do need to think carefully about their own demands on government—the services they expect, the financial assistance they receive in either direct payments or through the tax code, the prominent role they want the United States to play in world affairs, and the tax rates they are willing to accept.

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Interested in contributing to the civic health of the Pikes Peak Region? Check out the Forum for Civic Advancement’s homepage for upcoming events.

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