Former U.S. comptroller: ‘Grand bargain’ needed on debt

David Walker told Elon students on Oct. 5 of a looming financial crisis that will impact their economic security should elected leaders not act.


With a digital display estimating the debt burden faced by Americans at any given instant serving as his backdrop, its glowing amber numbers spiraling upward at a dizzying pace, former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker urged Elon University students on Friday to make their voices heard in Washington as government financial obligations threaten the economic futures of today’s young Americans.

Walker’s Oct. 5 appearance in the LaRose Digital Theatre was part of his “$10 Million a Minute Tour” organized as part of the nonprofit Comeback America Initiative he founded and now leads.

“The problem is much bigger than the politicians admit,” Walker said in his criticism of government gridlock on the national debt, for which he faulted both major political parties. “Guess who’s going to pay the bill? Washington is mortgaging the future of young people at record rates.”

The Comeback America Initiative is a nonprofit movement to promote fiscal responsibility and sustainability. From 1998-2008, Walker served as the seventh Comptroller General of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Walker said that leaders in Washington must reach a “grand bargain” soon to avoid automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that will take effect in January 2013 with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. He called the proposition a “fiscal cliff” with the prospect of throwing the economy into recession and argued that a grand bargain should include a balance of new revenues via appropriate and fair taxes, cuts to discretionary federal spending, and initiatives to promote job growth.

An agreement should hinge on six values and principles, he said. Policies must be pro-growth, socially equitable, culturally acceptable, mathematically possible, politically feasible and bipartisan in support.

Entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will need to be reformed with means testing for certain services. However, Walker pointed out to students that despite rhetoric, Social Security will continue to exist well into their retirement years, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t improvements to be made.

“I’m in this fight for our country, and I’m in this fight for my grandchildren,” he said. “You have to put a face on this.”

Elon University President Leo M. Lambert welcomed guests who filled LaRose Digital Theatre for Walker’s colloquium. “No challenge is greater for America today than facing and fixing our financial mess,” Lambert said in his introduction, “and no one has dedicated more time or energy to fix this critical problem than David Walker.”

Walker has more than 20 years of private sector experience, including work as a partner and global managing director of human capital services for Arthur Andersen LLP. In addition to his leadership responsibilities at CAI, Walker currently serves on various non-profit boards and advisory groups. Prior to his current position, he served as the first president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

He is a member of the Accounting Hall of Fame, the Trilateral Commission, and the Sons of the American Revolution, and he has authored three books, including 2010’s Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility.

The Friday presentation was Walker’s second visit to campus. In April 2011, he was part of a Spring Convocation panel discussion moderated by NBC News Anchor Brian Williams. As part of his appearance, Walker spoke with eight Elon University students about the looming financial crisis, and his interactions were filmed as part of an upcoming video on the issue.

Two of Walker’s staff members on the Comeback American Initiative are Elon University alumni. Communications associates Sarah Small ’11 and Rachel Vierling ’12 both played critical roles in coordinating the bus tour visit to campus in less than a week.