Albany 'Congress' Finds Budgeting a Tough Chore

Published Jun 21, 2011. By Terry Lewis. In Albany Herald.

ALBANY, Ga. — Nearly 90 diverse members of the Southwest Georgia community gathered at Albany Technical College Monday evening to take part in a deficit reduction workshop conducted by U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr.,

D-Albany, and the bipartisan Concord Coalition.

In the workshop, the participants broke into groups of six or seven as “new members of Congress” and discussed and voted on items that would either raise or lower the country’s massive debt.

“It’s very easy to say ‘just cut this’ or ‘cut that,’” Bishop said. “But then you find out there is someone sitting arose the table from you that’s saying, ‘No, we don’t need to cut that. I like it.’”

The Concord Coalition is a grassroots organization dedicated to educating the public about the causes and consequences of federal budget deficits, the long-term challenges facing America’s unsustainable entitlement programs, and how to build a sound foundation for economic growth.

Phil Smith, the Coalition’s Southern regional director, called the evening a “congressional exercise.”

“This is an interactive exercise in congressional budgetary matters,” Smith said. “If we continue on our current path and do nothing, in the next 10 years we will add more than $11 trillion to our national debt. This exercise is meant to illustrate the difficult task Congress has in lowering our debt, which now stands at $14.6 trillion.”

Bishop said he hopes all the participants will take something away from the workshop.

“Our debt is not a liberal or a conservative problem,” the representative said. “This is an American problem. Our debt and deficit are our greatest threats to our economic and national security. Look at who we are indebted to — China, Japan and OPEC countries. They are our competitors.

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff see the national debt a our biggest national security concern.”

Workshop participant Abiodun Ojemakinde, vice president for academic affairs at Albany State University, said the exercise was an eye-opening experience for him.

“The work shop was not easy at all,” Ojemakinde said. “We say how difficult it was to take away what is so important to someone. It makes it very different if they are sitting at a table with you. You second-guess yourself and hope you made the right decision.

“I took away that the Congress does not have an easy task.”

Another participant, Albany Area Primary Healthcare CEO Tary Brown, advised the country to brace for a long slog ahead.

“I found it was an interesting process to see where the federal government gets its money from,” Brown said. “The workshop brought to light the complicated fact that we don’t have enough money to pay for everything our society wants.

“We will undoubtedly see tax hikes to balance the shortfalls, but the honest truth is it will be painful and will take a long time to balance the budget.”