Citizens Learn, Recommend Fixes to Federal Deficit

Published Jul 21, 2011. By Ross Sylvestri. In Alexandria Gazette Packet.

As President Barack Obama and members of Congress struggle to come to an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, which is the amount of money that the federal government can borrow, the constituents of U.S. Rep. Jim Moran’s (D-8) district July 11, at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association building in Arlington to learn more about the issue.The meeting began with a presentation by Jeff Thiebert, the national grassroots director of the Concord Coalition, a non-partisan organization that advocates for sustainable government spending and reducing the federal deficit. Thiebert explained the process of how the budget is planned and appropriated. He said that mandatory spending — spending that is automatically appropriated every year and that, “doesn’t have to go through the annual appropriations process” — currently makes up 63 percent of the federal budget. This includes interest payments on the federal debt and entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Overtime, these programs, along with interest on the debt, will continue to consume more and more of the federal budget. “In 10 years, it will grow to about 72 percent of the budget.”After Thiebert’s presentation, attendees gathered in small groups to discuss reducing the deficit. All groups were given a list of spending and tax proposals put together by the Concord Coalition and had to vote on each proposal. Some of the ideas would’ve decreased the deficit and others would’ve increased it. Some of the proposals listed were gradually eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, letting some or all of the tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 expire, freezing defense spending, and gradually raising the retirement age for Social Security. There was also a proposal to eliminate the $1 bill. Members of each group didn’t always agree with each other on specific proposals. However, despite their differences, every participant was respectful of one another. Alex Zaloum, a recent graduate of Yorktown High School and resident of Arlington, enjoyed the discussions because he and other attendees were able to talk to each other and give their opinions about the issues. “It wasn’t just someone just some one telling you their ideas,” said Zaloum, “We got to talk out some of the major debt issues with strangers who were also well educated and very smart, and it was just fun to see what other people had to say about it.”Halfway through the meeting, Moran arrived to discuss the budget negotiations going on currently in Congress and his thoughts of what should be done to deal with it. He proposed a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases. After the speech, he went around the room to talk to his constituents.At the conclusion of the meeting, Moran said that the meeting was, “an opportunity not only for my constituents to be educated, but to educate me on how they feel about these issues.” He was surprised to find out that many of his constituents had a lot of agreement on what to cut from the federal budget. “I was stunned that there was near unanimous [agreement] that we should freeze the defense budget. The vast majority of people thought that we should take away the mortgage interest deduction. I would not have known that unless we had a session like this. I think there were a lot of Republicans as well as Democrats. It was a good reflection of the constituency as a whole.” However, when asked about how discussions on Capitol Hill are going, Moran replied that they’re “not as well as the one tonight.” Congress has until Tuesday, Aug. 2, to reach a deal to raise the debt limit. Otherwise, according to the Concord Coalition’s Thiebert, the United States would default on its debt for the first time in its history. If that does happen, Thiebert says that interest rates will rise, thus increasing the cost of borrowing, and the country wouldn’t be able to borrow more money to “pay its bills.” The Secretary of the Treasury would decide who would be paid first with what money the federal government already has. Thiebert is hoping that it doesn’t come to that. “Default isn’t an option. We’ve known this is coming. This isn’t something new.” He said that all that’s really needed is the political leadership to come to a deal.