Former U.S. Senators J. Robert Kerrey and John C. Danforth today released an update of a 1994 commission report on entitlement and tax reform and called on Americans — particularly presidential hopefuls — to quickly address the nation’s fiscal challenges.
A bipartisan majority of the original Kerrey-Danforth commission warned that with an aging population and rising health care costs, the country was on an unsustainable budget path that jeopardized its future growth and prosperity. Today’s update says that despite some positive changes over the last two decades, the budget remains on an unsustainable path, with the key problems identified in the 1994 report yet to be adequately addressed.
“We understand that Democrats and Republicans will have different views on how these issues should be addressed,” Kerrey and Danforth say in their new report. “But resolving those differences is what the legislative process is all all about. Let there be no doubt that we still have fundamental problems and that they must be addressed sooner rather than later. Twenty years of procrastination is enough.”
The two former senators put together their update in collaboration with The Concord Coalition. The report was released this afternoon at a program at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington that the BPC and Concord co-hosted. The program, from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., is to be livestreamed here.
Kerrey and Danforth say it is “particularly critical for the 2016 presidential candidates in both parties to prominently and candidly address” the problems that are reviewed in the new report.
“Don’t duck the debt,” Kerrey and Danforth advise the candidates. “Your campaign promises for reviving the economy, strengthening national defense, improving the social safety net or reducing the tax burden will ring hollow if they count on an escalating and unsustainable infusion of borrowed money.”
For years after it was issued, the Kerrey-Danforth commission’s 1994 report was central to discussions over long-term reform of the federal budget. An overwhelming majority of the panel agreed on seven key findings that its former co-chairs say are all still valid today.
These findings call for taking immediate action to protect America’s children from unfair fiscal burdens, substantially raising national savings, preventing entitlements from rapidly consuming more and more of the federal budget, taking account of projected increases in health care costs, taking account of demographic changes, bringing Medicare spending and revenues available to the program into long-term balance, and doing the same with Social Security.
The original report said that if the country failed to respond to such calls for action, years afterwards Americans would ask why there had been so little foresight.
“Twenty years have passed and the American people have a right to ask that question,” Kerrey and Danforth say now. “Why has there been so little action? There is no good answer.”
They describe their new report as not just a retrospective account but as a challenge to a new generation of fiscal leaders: “Take up this cause. Do what our generation of leaders has failed to do. Solve this problem.”
A copy of the new report is available here.