An Exercise in Budgeting

George Washington students and 13 former members of Congress worked together to find ways to reduce the 10-year federal deficit during an interactive exercise Saturday in the City View Room.

Graduate students and alumni from GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and undergraduate students from the Department of Political Science teamed up with former congressmen, including former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) for the “Principles and Priorities” simulation interactive exercise, sponsored by the United States Association of Former Members of Congress (FMC), the Concord Coalition and GSPM.

The event included remarks by GSPM Acting Executive Director Dennis Johnson, FMC President and former Rep. Dennis Hertel (D-Mich.) and Jeff Thiebert, northeast regional director of the Concord Coalition; and a group discussion led by Director of the GSPM Legislative Affairs Program Steve Billet and Acting Director of the GSPM Political Management Program Michael Cornfield.In his introduction, Dr. Johnson spoke briefly about when he first taught budgetary policy in GSPM’s Legislative Affairs Master’s Program in the mid-1990s.

“We were having a little difficulty [then] with the budget and then things got a better, but, my gosh, do we need you folks now and we need to have this simulation,” said Dr. Johnson.

After an overview of the current fiscal problems and budget deficit, Mr. Thiebert told the participants that their job was to balance spending and revenue by looking at a number of policy options and areas, including mandatory and defense spending. He challenged the students to find $1.2 trillion in savings—or more—over the next 10 years.

“By working as groups, you’re going to see that these [budget options] are difficult choices, but they are tough choices that have to be made,” he said.

To begin the simulation, students divided into 10 diverse groups or “special committees,” which each included at least one former member of Congress, to develop solutions using workbooks that detailed the current federal budget and an options book that included a list of more than 40 possible policy proposals and their respective cost estimates.

Over the next 90 minutes, students and the former members discussed the choices needing to be made in a variety of budget categories, including health, international affairs and income security.

Sophomore Danica Brown said she attended the event to get an idea of the “conversation that goes into budgeting.”

“Events like today’s are important for students to participate in because we’re going into the real world very soon and we’re going to be the ones that want to make these decisions,” she said. “It gives us a little more of a mature view of politics and the reality of the situation. The numbers we decide on will affect someone’s life one day.”

Rep. Fazio said the event was an opportunity for students studying politics and public policy to begin to understand the problems facing elected officials, especially as some may become elected officials themselves.

“I hope they’ll understand the difficulty of the problems people face trying to come to closure on tough decisions,” he said.

“I always enjoy interaction with students,” Rep. Fazio added. “I had the opportunity to sit with four people who brought some different skills and background to the table but who interacted very effectively. It was very enjoyable and a lot of fun.”