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Balancing the budget

CBPA hosted a hands-on community event that dealt with the national deficit

The Drake University College of Business and Public Administration, in partnership with the Des Moines Register, hosted Principles and Priorities, a budget-reduction exercise that gave community members a chance to learn about the policymaking issues involved in federal spending and try their hand at slicing through the national debt.

The program, which was presented by the Concord Coalition, drew nearly 200 participants who worked in 25 small groups, comprised of Drake undergraduate and graduate students, working professionals and retirees. Principles and Priorities is a program presented by the Concord Coalition in schools across the country. The coalition is a non-partisan organization that aims to educate the public about the causes and consequences of government budget deficits as well as potential solutions to the country’s economic problems.

“Since each attendee has a different view of how the proposed spending cuts and tax changes might impact them, it created an excellent forum for discussion,” says Tom Root, associate professor of finance.

During the event, participants considered federal spending priorities, tax policy and entitlement reform and made decisions about the best combination of program spending and tax policies.

“The discussion at our tables was very civil and respectful,” Root says. “Participants were willing to discuss and debate then understand that there is a need for compromise. I think most participants wondered why Congress is not able to also reach solutions where both sides are willing to compromise.”

Groups then created a package of recommended policies in line with their sense of the principles behind government budgets and the priorities that should be at the forefront of the government’s fiscal agenda.

For example, to help reduce federal spending, 84 percent of the groups supported eliminating some agriculture subsides.

According to a Concord Coalition blog post, the average amount of deficit reduction approved by the groups was $3.46 trillion. Here is a sample of some of the outcomes:

•    76 percent of the groups favored keeping the spending caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act, or even cutting discretionary spending back to 2008 levels and freezing it
•    100 percent of the groups wanted the budget baseline to be adjusted for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.  All of the groups supported a substantial reduction in war costs
•    12 percent of the groups favored repealing the Affordable Care Act
•    96 percent of the groups favored raising the Medicare Eligibility Age to 67
•    92 percent of the groups favored increasing the taxable earning cap for Social Security
•    80 percent of the groups favored either letting the tax cuts expire or engaging in comprehensive tax reform
•    85 percent of the groups in favor of comprehensive tax reform wanted to use it to raise additional revenues
•    80 percent of the groups favored eliminating oil and gas subsides

“The event provided the community with an opportunity to improve its understanding of the difficult choices that need to be made in relation to our country’s debt,” Root says. “It is widely understood that the country is borrowing at an unsustainable rate and tough choices need to be made to solve this problem. This exercise demonstrates that the only solution possible will need to address a wide range of programs as well as revenue. Participants learn quickly that the solutions require both adjustments to spending and to taxes.”