Panel discusses solutions to debt issues

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The federal government’s rising national debt, which will hit its ceiling of $14.3 trillion this spring, is particularly important for college students, the executive director of a nonpartisan group said Wednesday. The LBJ School of Public Affairs hosted a panel discussion about solutions to the federal debt. Robert Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition, said the debt is more than just a financial problem. “It really is a moral issue,” he said. “It’s about the legacy that we’re leaving to future generations, and if we’re saying fiscal policy is unsustainable, we’re saying that your future is unsustainable.” Bixby told the 135 people in attendance that the recession added to the debt as tax revenues were reduced but is not entirely to blame. “Legislation matters, and for the last 10 years, what we’ve been doing is raising spending and cutting taxes,” he said. David Walker, founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative, said the government must look into restructuring entitlement programs, cut defense spending and increase taxes to begin closing down the debt. “We’ve got to make major changes,” he said. “This is not nip and tuck; this is reconstructive surgery.” Walker also said the government should institute a fixed GDP-to-debt ratio but not until 2013 in order to be able to make cuts, get out of the recession and lower unemployment rates. Alice Rivlin, senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, said fiscal responsibility is not a matter of political ideology. “It’s deciding about how big a government we want and paying for it,” she said. Rivlin said solutions to the debt may be unpleasant, but debt reduction is necessary. “It’s all painful, but you won’t like what happens if we don’t get on top of this problem,” she said. Public Affairs dean Robert Hutchings said the event is part of the school’s fundamental mission and an opportunity for public outreach. “The two parties have difficulty in coming to terms in a cooperative way,” he said. “This threesome of distinguished, bipartisan scholars and experts are trying to go around the country, including to Austin to help talk about these issues in a responsible non-polemical way.” Business graduate student Eric Machak said he wished the panel had explained more details about solutions to the debt. “I was looking for more concrete sort of ideas or next steps, actions,” he said.