The US needs to take urgent action to cut its debt in order to prevent the next financial crisis, which may start in Washington, Sheila Bair, chair of the Federal Deposits Insurance Corp. (FDIC) wrote in an editorial in the Washington Post.
The federal debt has doubled over the past seven years, to almost $14 trillion, and the growth is a result of both the financial crisis and the government's "unwillingness over many years to make the hard choices necessary to rein in our long-term structural deficit," Bair wrote.
Retiring baby boomers will impact government spending heavily and this year, combined spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are expected to make up 45 percent of primary federal spending, compared with 27 percent in 1975, she explained.
"Defense spending is similarly unsustainable, and our tax code is riddled with special-interest provisions that have little to do with our broader economic prosperity," Bair wrote. "Overly generous tax subsidies for housing and health care have contributed to rising costs and misallocation of resources."
If no action is taken, US federal debt held by the public could rise from 62 percent of gross domestic product this year to 185 percent in 2035, she warned.
"Eventually, this relentless federal borrowing will directly threaten our financial stability by undermining the confidence that investors have in U.S. government obligations," Bair said.
"With more than 70 percent of US Treasury obligations held by private investors scheduled to mature in the next five years, an erosion of investor confidence would lead to sharp increases in government and private borrowing costs," she added.
There needs to be "a bipartisan national commitment" for an austerity package of both spending cuts and tax increases over many years in order to solve the problem, according to Bair.
"Most of the needed changes will be unpopular, and they are likely to affect every interest group in some way," she said.