It is now a little under one week until the deadline for the congressional joint committee on deficit reduction, or super committee, to report its recommendations. Inside Washington, many are skeptical that committee members will meet their goal of $1.5 trillion in further deficit reduction. One of the challenges for elected officials is that the political environment surrounding the super committee, including events on the presidential campaign trail, makes finding real solutions very difficult.
What happens, though, when average Americans are asked to help find solutions?
Something quite amazing, actually.
On Monday night, nearly 200 people in Des Moines, Iowa worked in “committees” of seven or eight to confront the nation’s fiscal challenges and came to some startling conclusions.
For example, to help reduce federal spending, 84 percent of the groups supported eliminating some agriculture subsides. In Iowa!
Students, community leaders, seniors and other Iowans took part in The Concord Coalition’s interactive budget exercise Principles and Priorities. The event was co-sponsored by The Des Moines Register
and Drake University School of Business and Public Administration. The participants varied by ideology and profession as well as by age. They were asked to discuss and decide on the policies that they, as a group, favored to try to reduce projected federal deficits over the next 10 years by trillions of dollars.
The exercise asks the groups to vote on discretionary and defense spending options, tax and other revenue policies, and possible changes to current health care and retirement policies. Although the goal was to reduce deficits, some options allowed participants to increase spending for some items if they thought those were reasonable investments for the nation’s future.
There were a total of 25 groups that participated.
The average amount of deficit reduction that the groups approved was $3.46 trillion. This is nearly $2 trillion more than the $1.5 trillion target given to the super committee! In addition, 24 of the 25 groups achieved more than $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.
To reach such levels, these Iowa citizens made some very difficult decisions. 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.
Although these results are a not a scientific random sample, they show something very clearly: Americans can come together and compromise to make tough choices. Citizens understand the trade-offs necessary for a stronger future.
Now, if only the politicians will stop shouting their talking points long enough to listen to the people they represent and see that real leadership -- and compromise -- is needed.