Regardless of what sparked the economic crisis, the simple fact is that the roof is on fire; and the task at hand is to put it out before the house burns down. We just need to find the right way to do it.

For the Arlington-based Concord Coalition, a bi-partisan think tank that has long embraced a grassroots approach to spreading its message, the best way through the morass is reasoned discourse presented from all areas of the political spectrum, given directly to the public.

The coalition is coming to Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School on Friday, March 27, at 10 a.m., when members of the coalition’s “Fiscal Wake Up Tour” will present a four-hour event on the problems with and solutions to America’s ill financial health. The free meeting, open to the public, is sponsored by the Policy Research Institute for the Region (PRIOR), part of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. To register, visit www.princeton.edu/prior.

The event will be presided over by coalition executive director Robert Bixby, a graduate of American University, George Mason University School of Law, and Harvard, whence he received his masters in public administration. Before taking over at Concord Bixby served as chief staff attorney of the Court of Appeals of Virginia.

Bixby will be joined by a panel of economists and comentators including Alice Rivlin, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bill Clinton. One-time vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, Rivlin now is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. Also on the program: Eugene Steuerle of the Peterson Foundation and former deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for Tax Analysis; and Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation and former staff analyst for Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.

In a February interview with For Our Grandchildren, a non-partisan coalition aiming to fix Social Security, Bixby explained the tour’s roots and objectives:

“Our mission is to cut through the usual partisan rhetoric and stimulate a more realistic public dialogue on what we want our nation’s future to look like, along with the required trade-offs,” Bixby said. “Members of the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour do not necessarily agree on the ideal levels of spending, taxes, and debt. But despite the differences, we all agreed that the nation’s fiscal policy is unsustainable over the long term.”

According to Bixby, though members range from the left-leaning (Rivlin) to the conservative (Riedl) and everywhere in between, all agree that the best way to make the hard choices is through a bipartisan process with all options on the table, and through public involvement. “There are no free-lunch solutions, such as cutting waste fraud and abuse or growing our way out of the problem,” Bixby told For Our Grandchildren. “This is not about numbers. It is a moral issue.”

In a February 19 article, (available at www.brookings.edu) Rivlin acknowledges the enormity of the problem facing President Obama and federal legislators, as well as the need for everyone to play nicely together:

“Tackling these problems will require a degree of sacrifice impossible under the existing policy process, which discourages bipartisan compromise and encourages procrastination and obstructionism,” she writes. “Unless those procedures are modified, and the American people are engaged in the process, future legislative attempts to address the fiscal crisis will almost certainly fail.”

Rivlin does, however, offer some optimism: “The American people are ready to confront the challenge. When Americans are given the facts and options in a neutral and bipartisan way, they want action and are willing to make difficult trade-offs.”

Riedl, an outspoken critic of Barack Obama, often writes about specific problems he sees with the president’s policies. In a March 16 essay (available at www.heritage.org), Riedl blasts the Obama stimulus bill as the harbinger of debt and higher taxes, without the benefit of any real results. “The president’s budget represents a sharp break from the policies that created the most prosperous 25-year period in American economic history,” he writes. “It puts politicians in charge of an increasing portion of the economy. Congress should discard this tax-and-spend budget and start from scratch.”

Started in 2005, the Fiscal Wake Up Tour has involved some of the nation’s top economic thinkers and has toured dozens of towns. According to Bixby, the tour has met with great success in and outside of Washington. The reason behind its generally esteemed reception, he told For Our Grandchildren, is the civility of the dialogue.

But more people need to wake up, pay attention, and get involved because the roof is still on fire. “Change will happen whether we wake up or not,” he said. “The question is whether we take on this challenge while we have time to phase in reforms or whether we will deal with these problems in a crisis atmosphere.”

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