Financial Planning | Legislative / Regulatory

‘We’re doomed!’ The David Walker tour rolls on

Walker Say this about David Walker: He knows how to stay on message.

For more than three years, the former U.S. comptroller general has been telling anyone who will listen that the country is heading toward financial ruin. He has said it again ... and again ... and again.

And he's still saying it, this time in a fascinating interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

He made his usual points:

  • The problem isn't our current financial crisis or our $12.5 trillion debt. It's the coming burden of $56.4 trillion in "unfunded obligations" for programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

  • We desperately need some form of sustainable health care reform, but the proposals circulating on Capitol Hill won't solve anything ... and may actually make things worse.

  • If we don't have some uncomfortable conservations and make some tough choices soon, the country could soon find itself in dire financial straits.

Yes, we've heard all of that before, and we need to keep hearing it. Walker strikes me as a rare voice of reason in a world of financial insanity. His message certainly bears repeating.

What I hadn't heard before were these couple of interesting tales:

  • As head of the Government Accountability Office, Walker asked for a meeting with President George W. Bush to discuss the looming financial crisis. That request was denied. Later, he met with the current and former premiers of China to discuss that very thing. "I didn't say anything to them that I hadn't said publicly because it wouldn't have been appropriate," Walker told Gross, "but it's more than a little bit ironic that the Chinese get it more than we do."

  • According to Walker, there is very little security left in the notion of Social Security. "The government spends every dime of the Social Security surplus on other government operating expenses. Every single dime," said Walker, currently CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. "There's no savings for Social Security. ... We should've saved the Social Security surplus and invested it in a responsible manner in order to provide real security for the promised Social Security benefits. But it's too late now because Social Security is now running a negative cash flow. For many years that was not the case, but 2010 is the first year that it is the case, and so it's too late to have that debate."

Did you catch that? Folks continue to debate about how to fix Social Security, but Walker says it's too late, at least as far as the surplus is concerned. That's scary.

What's even scarier, though, is this: A recent study by the Employment Benefit Research Institute found that "27 percent (of respondents) have less than $1,000 in savings, 43 percent say they have less than $10,000 set aside, and 54 percent have less than $25,000 saved."

And now, they may not even be able to count on Social Security.

Listen to Walker's Fresh Air interview in its entirety, then tell us: Is he an alarmist, or is the United States in real trouble?


Bill Sheridan