This segment was originally broadcast on March 4, 2007. It was updated on July 8, 2007.
When the stock market soars or plunges, everyone pays attention. But short term results aren't that important to the man you're about to meet. David Walker thinks the biggest economic peril facing the nation is being ignored, and for nearly two years now he has been traveling the country like an Old Testament prophet, urging people to wake up before its too late. Who is David Walker and why should we care?
As correspondent Steve Kroft first reported earlier this year, he is the nation's top accountant, the comptroller general of the United States. He's totaled up our government's income, liabilities, and future obligations and concluded that our current standard of living is unsustainable unless some drastic action is taken. And he's not alone. It's been called the "dirty little secret everyone in Washington knows" - a set of financial truths so inconvenient that most elected officials don't even want to talk about them, which is exactly why David Walker does.
"I would argue that the most serious threat to the United States is not someone hiding in a cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan but our own fiscal irresponsibility," Walker tells Kroft.
David Walker is a prudent man and a highly respected public official. As comptroller general of the United States he runs he Government Accountability Office, the GAO, which audits the government's books and serves as the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress. He has more than 3,000 employees, a budget of a half a billion dollars, and a message he considers urgent.
"I'm going to show you some numbers…they're all big and they're all bad," he says.
So bad, that Walker has given up on elected officials and taken his message directly to taxpayers and opinion makers, hoping to shape the debate in the next presidential election.
"You know the American people, I tell you, they are absolutely starved for two things: the truth, and leadership," Walker says.
He calls it a fiscal wake up tour, and he is telling civic groups, university forums and newspaper editorial boards that the U.S. has spent, promised, and borrowed itself into such a deep hole it will be unable to climb out if it doesn't act now. As Walker sees it, the survival of the republic is at stake.
"What's going on right now is we're spending more money than we make…we're charging it to credit card…and expecting our grandchildren to pay for it. And that's absolutely outrageous," he told the editorial board of the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
You have heard this before, from Ross Perot 15 years ago. You might have even thought the problem had been solved, when President Clinton announced, "Tonight, I come before you to announce that the federal deficit … will be simply zero."
"Well, those days are gone. We've gone from surpluses to huge deficits and our long range situation is much worse," Walker says.
"President Bush would argue that the economy is in pretty good shape, unemployment is down, the deficit is actually less than expected," Kroft remarks.
"The fact is, is that we don't face an immediate crisis. And, so people say, 'What's the problem?' The answer is, we suffer from a fiscal cancer. It is growing within us. And if we do not treat it, it could have catastrophic consequences for our country," Walker replies.
The cancer, Walker says, are massive entitlement programs we can no longer afford, exacerbated by a demographic glitch that began more than 60 years ago, a dramatic spike in the fertility rate called the "baby boom."