That's exactly the question participants in a budget workshop attempted to answer Tuesday at Carl Sandburg College.
17th District U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos invited the public to review proposals and provide potential solutions to the U.S. government's projected annual budget deficits.Bustos tells WGIL that gathering public input is important because she believes the federal budget is the blueprint for decision making in Congress."We'll tally what people in the heart of our district think about education, about health, about Social Security, Medicare, defense, we'll see what the local flavor is," says Bustos. Between 30 and 40 individuals from across the political spectrum registered to participate.The event was developed with the assistance of the Concord Coalition, a self-described non-partisan group promoting fiscal stewardship, and was designed to provide resources to both elected officials and concerned citizens.Those in attendance were asked to read through the group's "Options book" and consider the arguments for and against each budget proposal. About 40 options were available in total covering general government spending, homeland security, healthcare and social security, and cutting taxes or revenue options.Concord Coalition Midwest Regional Director Dr. Sara Imhof tells WGIL the organization created the exercise because it's a great public education tool."It gives people outside of Washington D.C., that do not focus their life on fiscal policy, some very good basic information about the federal budget, the components of it, how we tax and spend money," says Imhof. "I think another really important part of this exercise is the empathy that it gives elected officials."While the various tables discussed options, some groups decided to review "hot button" fiscal issues first, while others felt more comfortable working through the proposals on the list in order.According to the Office of Management and Budget, without action, the U.S. debt held by the public as a percentage of GDP is expected to exceed 250% by the year 2040.Much of the data used by the Concord Coalition is reportedly developed with the help of the Congressional Budget Office - the government's economic and budget analysis non-profit. Imhof tells WGIL their survey does not account for dynamic scoring."We cannot show easily how economic conditions are going to change and what the interactions are between choosing a policy on one side of the budget from the other, and that's always a critique even from members of Congress, it's just simply that it's unable to do with the formulas," says Imhof.In conjunction with the event, Bustos spent time touting her vote in favor of a two-year budget passed last week by the U.S. House of Representatives.That budget seeks to reduce U.S. government debt by about $20-billion over 10 years. The budget passed a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate 67-33 on Tuesday.Bustos tells WGIL that the most important parts of a budget are the investments it delivers."It is tough in an environment where we have budget issues and we have a deficit problem to get everything you want in that and what the budget that we passed does is it reduces the amount of sequestration which has been harmful to our area," says Bustos. The East Moline Democrat says that between the two sessions, more than 100 people said they were interested in participating. Bustos planned to hold a similar event in Moline later Tuesday evening. She says there are positives to be had when more people are exposed to the budgeting process.