New Foundation Tackles U.S. Federal Debt

By Cook, David | The Christian Science Monitor, July 10, 2008 | Go to article overview

New Foundation Tackles U.S. Federal Debt


Cook, David, The Christian Science Monitor


The middle of an election year is an especially tough time to be pushing potentially painful reforms in the federal government's finances.But that is what the Peter Peterson Foundation, which officially launches July 10, aims to do.The foundation's namesake, who spoke at Wednesday's Monitor-sponsored breakfast, said the organization would concentrate on getting elected officials to focus on issues "that I call undeniable, unsustainable, and politically untouchable. I am referring to such things as entitlements, Social Security, Medicare, and so forth ... current account deficits and the absolutely unprecedented level of foreign borrowing we do."It is a tall order. But the effort will be well funded. Mr. Peterson is senior chairman of the Blackstone Group, an asset management and financial advisory firm. When Blackstone went public last year, published reports said Peterson pocketed a $1.8 billion profit. And he has pledged $1 billion, over time, to the foundation.As part of the launch, Peterson hired David Walker, former comptroller general of the US, as the foundation's president. At the breakfast, Mr. Walker said he left the Government Accountability Office (GAO) before his 15-year term expired because, "I think the future of the country is at risk. I think we have a number of serious sustainability challenges that current elected officials are not taking seriously."Walker estimates that the federal government has run up $52.7 trillion in federal liabilities and unfunded promises. That amounts to $175,000 for each citizen, he says.If no corrective action is taken, Walker said the potential consequences could be more significant than the subprime mortgage crisis that has hammered the US housing market. "We have a super subprime crisis on the horizon and that super-subprime crisis is the federal government's finances. The same conditions that led to the mortgage based subprime crisis exist for the federal government's finances," Walker said. …

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