Athens Hosts Bipartisan Budget Exercise

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Over the years, The Concord Coalition has teamed up with members of Congress from across the ideological spectrum and across the nation to facilitate the popular federal budget exercise we call “Principles & Priorities.” The exercise is a nonpartisan, policy-based initiative designed to educate citizens and our representatives in Washington about the country’s budget and the need for long term sustainability. 

As the year came to a close, I was proud to bring this experience to my hometown of Athens, Georgia. Of course I was excited about the host city, but what made this event even more outstanding were the hosts themselves: conservative U.S. Representative Jody Hice (R-GA) and progressive Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz.  

Despite seemingly opposing political backgrounds, they have cultivated a friendship over the years and look for ways to work together on areas of common purpose. 

And when it comes to the future of the federal budget and looming deficits growing faster than the economy, they see a common purpose. In November, dozens of their concerned citizens joined them and took the time to actively participate in our “Principles & Priorities” budget exercise.

Both leaders gave remarks, and I facilitated the exercise. Over the course of two hours, multiple small groups worked together to craft their own 10-year federal budget priorities. Participants reviewed more than 40 policy proposals that had varying impacts on the budget deficit, with a majority vote of each group determining whether they would support or oppose any given policy. 

During the exercise, Congressman Hice and Mayor Girtz roamed the room, interacting with their constituents on substantive, important topics. 

The diversity of thought and the intensity of the debate was incredible. At each table, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans spoke to one another with respect and exchanged ideas about how to improve our nation’s fiscal policy. Each group successfully crafted budgets that would move forward with their own principles and priorities. And each group found ways to reduce the deficit.

University of Georgia student Jeff Ballance summed up the event well when he said, “It’s not often I have a productive, even warm discussion, with people across the aisle. It was a unique and eye-opening experience to talk budget, expenditures and revenues, with a politician I admire and another that I see a little more complexly now.”

The exercise in Athens demonstrated for me, yet again, that it is actually possible to break through the gridlock and the partisan brinkmanship when people of good conscience come together, get educated, listen to one another and interact honestly with facts. Simply put, we need more of what we saw in Athens, and policymakers in Washington could learn a thing or two from those active citizens and bipartisan leaders.  

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