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Former comptroller says US has moral obligation to fix debt problem

FARGO - When talking about the need to solve the nation's debt problems, former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker delivers a familiar plea: Do it for the children.

FARGO - When talking about the need to solve the nation's debt problems, former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker delivers a familiar plea: Do it for the children.

Walker urged a Fargo audience Tuesday to become more engaged in harnessing the nation's runaway debt, which is "mortgaging the future of young people and the unborn at record rates."

"This is not just an economic issue. It is a moral issue," he told a mix of concerned citizens, politicians, businesspeople and others gathered at the Skills and Technology Center in north Fargo.

Sen. Kent Conrad hosted the visit by Walker, who was the nation's chief auditor from 1998 to 2008 and now serves as founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative, a nonpartisan organization that aims to engage the public and help lawmakers find solutions to the nation's fiscal imbalances.

Walker said he believes the nation will have a debt crisis in the next two to three years unless elected officials make tough choices to cut spending and boost revenue through comprehensive tax reform.

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"We are approaching a tipping point. We're at a critical crossroads. And for us to be able to avoid a train wreck, the people need to become much more informed than they are," he said.

From Presidents George Washington to Bill Clinton, the nation accumulated about $5.7 trillion in debt, a number that has more than doubled in the past decade and is set to almost double again in the next 10 years, Walker said.

Federal spending is a bipartisan problem that has been "out of control," especially in the past 10 years, Walker said.

Congress' recent decision to raise the debt limit ceiling was necessary, he said, because government spending this fiscal year accounts for about 25 percent of gross domestic product while revenue is equal to less than 15 percent of GDP.

As a result, "We are $4 billion a day - including weekends - short of being able to pay our bills," he said.

"We are headed for third-world-nation status on debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product)," he said. "That must not be allowed to happen."

Conrad, D-N.D., a recent member of two lawmaker groups that developed debt-reduction plans, said the compromise deal reached by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama earlier this month was "necessary but not sufficient."

He and Walker said they hope the special committee assigned by the plan to come up with $1.5 trillion more in deficit cuts by Thanksgiving will recommend even greater savings.

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Audience member Tom Fiebiger, a Fargo attorney and former Democratic state senator, said people are frustrated with what's happening in Washington, and he agreed with Walker's statement that U.S. politics have been taken over by "wing nuts on the far right and the far left."

"What can community members like us do, other than write letters and complain and say 'somebody should do something,' that would help move this discussion forward?" Fiebiger asked.

Walker suggested visiting Comeback America's website, www.tcaii.org , to become informed and empowered to take action through local media and interactions with current and prospective elected officials.

Walker gave a similar presentation Tuesday in Bismarck.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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