David M. Walker takes the stage, a vision of the prosperous accountant that he is - the crisp suit, the glasses, the receding hairline, the pleasant demeanor. Then he opens his mouth.
"We face something that is unprecedented in the history of this country," Mr. Walker warns. "It is called a demographic tidal wave."
There it is, up on the PowerPoint slide, a graphic showing the start of a statistical tsunami in 2011, when the first Baby Boomer reaches 65 and is eligible for Medicare. But "unlike most tidal waves, which recede, this one will never recede," Walker continues, his tone growing more ominous. "And we ... are not ... prepared."
Walker, the comptroller general of the United States, is scaring people. And he's trying to. On this occasion, the nation's top auditor is addressing last month's White House Conference on Aging, but it is a message he has delivered countless times, to politicians in Washington, business leaders, ordinary citizens - anyone who will listen.
Walker is not the only one trying to get Americans to understand the stakes of what he calls the nation's deteriorating financial condition and long-range fiscal imbalance.
Starting last September, a group of budget watchdogs, including Walker, began what they call a "Fiscal Wake-up Tour," holding events in three cities, with seven more dates scheduled and 20 other cities on a waiting list. Some are held on college campuses; some bring in senior citizens, too. Ideally, say organizers, these events promote intergenerational dialogue. Among this ad-hoc coalition, whose members span the political spectrum, it is Walker who has the most pungent way of expressing himself, his allies say.
"I describe him as the grim reaper; he hasn't denied the charge," says Stuart Butler, a "tour" member with the Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington. "When we take part in these things, he lays out the nasty numbers, and the rest of us say what the options are. He's kind of a Sergeant Friday. Just the facts."
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