Federal budgeting isn’t for the faint of heart. The tax code alone consists of tens of thousands of pages. Then there's the defense budget, the other eleven annual appropriations bills, Medicare, Medicaid, the need to modernize Social Security . . . the list goes on and on. Mix in some presidential and congressional politics, and it’s easy to see why even people with the best of intentions just cannot seem to get the country on a sustainable track for the long term.
In late May, U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) wanted to find out if his constituents, given sufficient info, could handle the challenge. In three different sessions across his central Florida district, the congressman invited The Concord Coalition to host our flagship budget exercise “Principles and Priorities.” He asked constituents to “role-play” as policy makers with the goal of working toward substantial deficit reduction. Concord has done similar programs from coast to coast. However, one of the unique characteristics of Congressman Nugent’s district is that he represents more senior citizens than any of his House colleagues.
Nugent was pleased with what his constituents were able to do in looking for deficit reduction over the next decade.
“I think that's what impressed me so much about the success the groups found in coming to a consensus,” he said in a statement after the recent events. “Out of almost thirty separate groups at three separate events, only one group failed to find meaningful savings and consequently voted to increase the deficit. The highest amount of deficit savings was $5.7 trillion and the average was around $3 trillion. That's a pretty good track record.”
Nugent pointed out that there are no silver-bullet solutions: “I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say something like, ’All we need to do is just get rid of the earmarks and all that pork barrel spending.’ That sounds good, but the truth is more complicated. The House did eliminate earmarks and all told, it added up to less than one half of one percent of spending. When the deficit is over forty percent of total spending, you've got a lot more work to do after earmarks.”
He sounded a similar caution on foreign aid: “I strongly believe that we need to scale back foreign aid -- particularly to these countries that don't like us -- but the truth is, foreign aid is also only about one percent of the budget and that isn't going to get us home either.”
Hearing the congressman’s remarks and seeing his constituents in action make me realize how much we need the same kind of constructive cooperation in Washington.
Link to Nugent’s statement: http://nugent.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=584&Itemid=64