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Anti-Debt Group Urges Passage of the Inform Act

Anti-Debt Group Urges Passage of the Inform Act

By Adam O'Neal - October 31, 2013

A national anti-debt group that bills itself as The Can Kicks Back staged a rally near the Capitol on Thursday to urge passage of the Inform Act, a bill that would require the federal government to disclose more complete analyses of how current spending will affect future generations.

The Inform Act was introduced in the Senate in June by Republican John Thune of South Dakota and Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia; both spoke at Thursday’s rally.

Flanked by metal cans with anti-debt messages scrawled on them, Thune warned that the national debt is “a big problem.”

“The first thing about solving a problem is defining reality. It’s important that we define reality … for those that are going to be impacted in the future,” he added.

Kaine, who was approached by his colleague to co-sponsor the bill earlier this year, blamed the Iraq War, Medicare Part D, and the 2008 recession for driving the debt to staggering levels since 2000 (it now tops $17 trillion).

Noting that he and Thune disagree about how to reduce that amount, Kaine nonetheless cautioned that the Inform Act is critical to forming a better understanding of the problem: “Better information will help us make better decisions.”

Shortly after Virginia lawmaker spoke, the rally was briefly interrupted by Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, a coalition of groups opposed to cuts in entitlement spending. Lawson, clad in a pirate costume, described his character as a “corporate pirate.” He was eventually ushered away by a man in a can costume. (TCKB’s mascot is known as AmeriCAN.)

Lawson, in character, said that he approves of the TCKB’s tactics because they were funded by private equity billionaire Pete Peterson, “the epitome of a corporate pirate.”

Out of character, Lawson said that despite the “bipartisan glean” attached to the Inform Act, the measure only gives ammunition to special interests that seek to cut entitlement spending.

The Inform Act calls for “generational accounting” analyses to determine what different generations will pay in taxes over a lifetime and what they will receive through programs like Medicare and Social Security. Another component of the bill, fiscal gap analyses, measures the projected difference, up to 75 years in the future, between total government liabilities (including outlays typically left off the books, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) and revenue.

Critics of the proposed legislation assert that generational accounting fails to differentiate between one-time spending and long-term investments, creating an inaccurate picture of how each generation is affected by spending. They also argue that fiscal gap analyses can’t reliably predict economic conditions decades into the future.

Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff -- who, with economist Alan Auerbach, developed the economic theories underpinning the Inform Act in the 1980s -- told RealClearPolitics that opponents of generational accounting and fiscal gap analyses have a lot of “chutzpah” to “think they have a better handle on this than the 15 Nobel laureates who endorsed the plan.”’

“Basically, you’ve got the entire economics profession saying … we’ve got to do something about it,” he insisted. Kotlikoff acknowledged that there are some notable exceptions, such as Princeton economist (and Nobel laureate) Paul Krugman, whose views he considers “extreme.”

The rally also marked the end of TCKB’s Generational Equity Tour, which began last month in Berkeley, Calif.

TCKB spokeswoman Rachel Vierling, who traveled to approximately 20 schools across the country during the tour, said the youth-directed group collected approximately 800 cans with anti-debt messages to deliver to different members of Congress.

With the tour now ended, the organization and its affiliated economists are shifting their focus to lobbying Congress to pass the Inform Act. TCKB staffers had several meetings with Democratic and Republican elected officials and staffers planned for Thursday.

But some supporters remain unsure about when the Inform Act might be brought to a vote -- or if it can pass.

Thune told RCP that there is a “chance” the legislation could be attached to whatever bill emerges from the budget conference now underway. However, his staff is looking at a range of options, given how contentious those negotiations are likely to be.

Thune added that he isn’t sure if the Inform Act could win a majority of votes in the Senate just yet.

TCKB activists are uncertain about when the bill will face a vote. “I’m not comfortable offering a time frame. I’m not sure,” Vierling said.

Kotlikoff, who planned to meet with Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (as well as House and Senate staffers) later in the day, said he expected the House and Senate to pass the bill sometime this fall or next year.

“It’s a big ----ing deal,” he added, smiling. 

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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