Through taxes and a wide array of programs and benefits, the federal budget affects every person and community in the country. Yet many Americans -- including some who serve in Congress or work in federal agencies -- have only limited knowledge of current budget issues and the difficult long-term fiscal challenges facing the United States.
Last Wednesday’s “Facing the Future” focused on ways to encourage students, government officials and members of the general public to become more knowledgeable and engaged in these issues.
“Budgeting can be brought to life in a classroom or other setting,” said Matt Glassman, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University in an interview I conducted with him on Capitol Hill. “But for a lot of people it is a turnoff at first blush.”
Glassman’s non-partisan organization helps executive branch agencies and some private-sector clients understand how Congress works and how they can improve their communications with lawmakers.
Drawing on his past experience as a congressional staffer, Glassman said that even on Capitol Hill there was “a wide diversity of knowledge” about the budget and needed improvements.
Many lawmakers “understood the issues quite clearly and they were just more constrained by the electoral politics of it,” he said. But others -- notably those who were not on budget or appropriations committees, often “had very little knowledge” of the budget.
“Part of the trick there was even getting them interested in it,” Glassman said.
Glassman said he tries to show that budgeting isn’t “just crunching numbers” but involves human interest as well as the result of political interactions, intrigue and the personal impacts of federal funding decisions.
Later in the program Steve Winn, communications director for The Concord Coalition, discussed the critical role that the news media can play in spotlighting the nation’s growing fiscal difficulties. Concord Executive Director Robert L. Bixby and Tyler Sweeney, the organization’s New Hampshire state director, offered some media-related observations as well.
Winn, who served as deputy editorial page editor at The Kansas City Star for many years, said he became increasingly focused there on the federal budget as central to other political issues.
While many media organizations around the country focus on local news, Winn says that should include helping people understand the local impact of federal budget decisions. Readers, viewers and listeners often express great appreciation for that kind of coverage.
Winn also discussed the importance of editorial board election endorsements and of journalists pressing candidates for federal office to explain how they would finance their campaign promises.
“Facing the Future” airs each week on WKXL Concord News Radio (N.H.) and is also available via podcast. Past broadcasts are available here. You can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play or through RSS.