The problem is the skyrocketing cost of government health-care and retirement benefits. By most estimates, they will break the national bank as the baby boom generation retires.
Fed up with Washington's paralysis on the issue, the government's chief auditor, David M. Walker, along with analysts from three ideologically diverse think tanks, is venturing beyond the Beltway to explain the issue to voters. Their goal: to generate enough grass-roots anger to force the 2008 presidential candidates to discuss the problem.
Their unusual road show is called the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour which is organized by the Concord Coalition, a Virginia nonprofit group formed in 1992 to promote responsible budgeting. The group is collaborating with the liberal Brookings Institution and the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Walker is the tour's rock star, profiled on "60 Minutes" and interviewed by faux-pundit Stephen Colbert. A former Arthur Andersen accountant, Walker heads the Government Accountability Office, a legislative agency that aims to improve government performance through audits and investigations.
With six years to go on a 15-year term, Walker has the stature and independence to say what he wants. For the past five years, since Congress ignored his advice and created a hugely expensive prescription-drug program for Medicare beneficiaries, Walker has put the looming fiscal crisis at the top of his agenda.
The biggest entitlements are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which together account for about 40 percent of federal spending. Interest on the national debt accounts for another 9 percent and is the fastest-growing budget category at $227 billion, or nearly twice what was spent last year on the war in Iraq.
All told, the cost of the three programs exceeds projected revenue by more than $50 trillion over the next 75 years, by the GAO's latest estimate.
-Lori Montgomery, WashingtonPost.com