It’s the youth of the nation, like students at the University of Miami, who will be left to face the growing debt of America.
As the national debt approaches $11 trillion, the outlook seems grim. But when panelists from The Fiscal Wake-Up Tour, a nationwide series of forums to discuss America’s fiscal future, came to UM on Monday and spoke to a packed Storer Auditorium, the experts offered several proposed solutions to the enormous financial problems the country faces.
The tour was one of several events UM is hosting called the Budgetball Series, all of which emphasize the challenges facing students and youth.
Monday’s panel, moderated by UM President Donna E. Shalala, included David Walker, president and CEO of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation and former U.S. comptroller general; Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition; Isabel Sawhill, senior fellow and director of Budgeting for the National Priorities Project at the Brookings Institution; and Andrew Briggs, resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute.
The speakers spoke primarily on three subjects driving up the deficit: social security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“Forty percent of the federal budget goes to the elderly,” Sawhill said. “College students need to take action now. By about 2040, these three major programs will absorb all revenues under current law.”
Sawhill told the audience several solutions, saying that the public must recognize that deficits are a problem and should be willing to forgo tax cuts and accept spending cutbacks. At the same time, politicians must use bipartisanship to find solutions and make rules to stay fiscally responsible.
“We need to legislate changes to entitlements and taxes now but phase them in gradually,” Sawhill said. “Our country also needs to make investments in education, healthcare, infrastructure, science and technology as well as tolerate modest deficits during this transition. By making these transitions, we would restore confidence in government and strengthen the nation.”
Walker said that America has always risen from a challenge and he has faith that this country will prevail. However, the situation will have to get worse before it gets better.
“The challenges we face go beyond numbers and dollars,” Walker said. “It’s about values and people.”
He proposed that in order to move forward, America must achieve social security reform that makes the program sustainable and secure, reducing the rate of increase in healthcare costs, pursuing comprehensive healthcare and tax reform and reviewing and re-prioritizing the base of the federal government to focus on the future and generating real results.
“We are here spreading alarm because we have confidence that our politicians can deal with these issues,” Bixby said. “There’s no easy solution and everyone’s going to have to give up something in order to overcome this financial burden.”
Students were able to ask the panelists questions and many walked away with new and unsettling information.
“It’s a little scary what they all were saying about what’s going to happen with our generation,” senior Josh Knight said. “The panelists dealt with the underlying issues about the state of our economy and the things that have been going on for years. I found it really interesting.”
Besides holding the Budgetball Series, UM recently implemented a new Web site that provides information on the school’s financial picture and the ongoing actions it is taking to deal with the crisis.
For more information about the University of Miami’s economic status, visit www.miami.edu/umresponds.
The series continues with a Screen on the Green showing of I.O.U.S.A., a documentary about the economy, on April 7 at a time to be determined, and the Budgetball Tournament on April 18 on the Michael Yaron Fields from noon to 7 p.m. Students can register their teams at www.budgetball.org.
There will be 16 teams with 10 students on each team. The game is a variation of Ultimate Frisbee, with quick passes and no running with the ball. This will be played in combination with teams “buying” financial strategies.
“The team’s ‘budget’ will carry through from game to game,” said Lois Fu, senior advisor to the president of the National Academy of Public Administration. “We’re hoping that this will help students strategically manage a budget.”
In Fall 2009, Budgetball is expected to be played on many other college campuses, such as Harvard University and the University of Washington. UM is the only university able to participate in the spring.