September 1, 2014

New Federal Budget Challenge Already Teaching Lessons

The latest version of our budget game, the Federal Budget Challenge, has been online for only two weeks, yet has been played by over 5,000 people from almost half of the states in the nation. The Challenge lets players examine over 50 different policy choices, along with their budgetary impacts over 10 years, and decide for themselves whether and how they would reduce the nation’s budget deficits.

The new version, built with our partners from the California-based non-profit Next 10, is now touch-screen playable and has built-in integration with Twitter and Facebook. Like the previous version, as well as the group exercises it was based on -- Principles and Priorities and Debt Busters -- the Challenge offers the opportunity to learn about many of the public policy options being debated in Washington, along with arguments for and against each choice.

The choices already being made by players are quite interesting in that the least and most popular selections are deeply intertwined with the political brinksmanship threatening to push the nation into economic turmoil with the looming “fiscal cliff” at the end of December. 

The most unpopular choice is the policy option to increase discretionary spending (and index its growth to growth in the economy) above the caps put into place in the August 2011 debt ceiling deal. The most popular choice involves changing the baseline to take into account lower defense spending from the Iraq withdrawal and the third most popular choice involves cutting discretionary spending even further than the caps from the debt ceiling deal. Clearly, the game participants are more willing to countenance lower discretionary spending than the politicians in Washington are.

The choice with the 2nd least amount of votes is the option to extend all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, as opposed to just those for the “middle class.” If this lack of concern over letting the upper-income taxes expire was similarly felt in Congress, it is quite likely a bipartisan budget deal could be reached to avoid the fiscal cliff entirely.

While a tabulation of these choices is in no way equivalent to a scientific poll, and the popularity of choices will certainly shift through time and as additional people participate in the game, what Principles and Priorities teaches, and the thousands of results we have already seen demonstrate, is that the path to fiscal responsibility involves having all options on the table and a willingness to choose spending cuts and tax increases. If you think you are up to that challenge -- play the game now!