National experts examine U.S. deficit at UI

BY SARAH BULMER | APRIL 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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About $14,272,993,603,000 and counting. That’s the U.S. national debt.

It’s a rapidly growing number, and with that growth, the question of what should be done to reverse the trend of the nation’s debt has grown from whisper to roar.

Three panelists met with about 400 people at the Pomerantz Center on Wednesday to address the issue of the U.S. debt and deficit. They discussed possible solutions to the problem as part of the Fiscal Solutions Tour presented by the UI and the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group looking to educate and approach economic inefficiencies.

“Our debt has risen in relation to the size of the economy because of the recession and because of the need to cope with the recession,” said Alice Rivlin, former director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office during the Clinton administration.

The national debt is the accumulation of the national deficit — how much money the country borrows each year. The panelists agreed the debt is unprecedented.

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“I think that the main point is whether you’re a liberal, a conservative, a Democrat, or a Republican, you have to acknowledge that the numbers just don’t add up,” said Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition.

As the baby boomers continue to age, retire, and thus cash Social Security checks, national alarm is growing, said Rivlin.

“Not only is there no easy solution, there’s no single solution,” Rivlin said.

James Capretta, assistant director of the Office of Management and Budget for the Bush administration, spoke about what should be done to improve the national health-care system in hopes of achieving “more health bang for the buck” by creating a “systemwide improvement by leveraging change in Medicare.”

Capretta addressed the issue that Americans often enroll in company retirement programs without fully understanding the funds. He said a key to reform would be to move toward setting a regulated government contribution tax.

After brief introductions by each of the panelists and Curt Hunter, the dean of the UI Tippie College of Business, the four sat side by side facing a full auditorium of concerned citizens and students from the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa.

John Solow, an associate professor of economics who teaches the course Debt and Deficits, has worked with his students to assess and discuss the root of the nation’s economic debt. From this research, he and his students found the issues of main concern are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and defense, he said.

“[Our country’s debt is] big, and it’s growing,” he said. “The biggest problem is not immediate, the biggest problem is coming down the pipe.”

UI sophomore Audrey Powers, an economics major and is one of Solow’s students in the course, said the issue of the national deficit strikes university students more than anyone.

“People have been talking about problems with Social Security and the problem with the debt, and now it really is upon us,” she said. “We really have to start making some big decisions about solving the problem.”

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