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Tour Will Push for "Generational" Debt Reporting

Tour Will Push for "Generational" Debt Reporting

By Adam O'Neal - September 27, 2013

Amid a series of budget impasses on Capitol Hill, a nonpartisan advocacy group called The Can Kicks Back (TCKB) has launched a national tour to generate support among young voters for bipartisan debt reduction legislation.

The Generational Equity Tour, featuring renowned deficit hawks such as former Sen. Alan Simpson and former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, is pushing for the passage of the Inform Act. The bill, introduced in the Senate in July by Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican John Thune of South Dakota, would require the federal government to disclose fiscal gap and generational accounting analyses in federal budgets and other legislative processes.

Fiscal gap analyses measure the projected difference in total government liabilities (including outlays typically left off the books in such computations: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) and revenue over the long term (75 years). Generational accounting analyzes net taxes, or what each generation pays in taxes over a lifetime vs. what they receive through programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Critics of the Inform Act, such as Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik, say that generational accounting doesn’t differentiate between transitory expenditures of dubious value and longtime federal investments in infrastructure and other undertakings that confer lasting benefits.

“An appropriation to send a congressional committee on a junket to the Bahamas carries the same weight as building a schoolhouse or a bridge,” he wrote.

In response, Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff rejoined that the difference between simple spending and investments was irrelevant, because the “objective is to understand which generations will pay for those public goods and other government spending.” (Kotlikoff and fellow economist Alan Auerbach are credited with developing the fiscal gap and generational accounting concepts.)

TCKB Field Director Nick Troiano, who is organizing the tour, told RealClearPolitics that he was unsure when, or if, either chamber would vote on the bill. He added that the group is still lobbying for more co-sponsors.

TCKB isn’t supporting other legislation, but Troiano said that in the coming months the organization would be “crowd-sourcing what a millennial budget would look like.”

“We’re not expecting a grand generational bargain this month or this year, but [the tour] is a key first step,” he added.

The group is stressing generational inequality to drum up support among younger voters, citing statistics that show an increased concentration of wealth among older generations. The group argues that current federal spending is more focused on entitlement spending than on investments that help younger generations.

The five-week tour, which began at the University of California, Berkeley, includes panel discussions and screenings of a deficit documentary titled “Overdraft.” Aside from Simpson and Walker, speakers include: philanthropist Stanley Druckenmiller, president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone Geoffrey Canada, and Reps. Patrick Murphy of Florida and Aaron Schock of Illinois, among others.

One major challenge for the group will be generating excitement about fiscal policy among millennials. Troiano said that around 300 students visited the group’s tent at UC Berkeley, with another 100 attending a panel discussion in the evening.

“The challenge for us is explaining why this won’t just be a problem 20, 30 or 40 years from now,” he said.

Troiano said the group was “aiming for” the tour to end with a final rally in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31. At that event, TCKB will deliver tin cans to legislators that bear messages from students across the country.

“Our future is at stake here,” lamented Troiano. 

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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