More than 150 people gathered to learn and speak out about federal budget cuts at a hearing hosted by U.S. Rep. Gary Peters at Berkley High School.The crowd spent the better part of two hours Tuesday night discussing the federal budget and working through an exercise that dove into general government spending, national defense/homeland security, revenues/taxes and entitlements including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.A mixed crowd of college-aged students, senior citizens, Democrats and Republicans came to learn about the budget but left with a picture of how the political process can work.Sarah Imhof from the Concord Coalition led them through the workshop. Each table discussed the category and then voted and moved onto the next category.The exercise was “created to bring an educational experience to the public for the complex and serious issues” according to Peters spokesman Clark Pettig. “The federal budget is a massive topic and there’s no way to get everything in.”Comments and discussion from each table helped educate attendees.“It’s easy to cut tax breaks for the wealthy,” one attendee stated in the wrap-up discussion. “Freeze discretionary spending,” another added. “We may feel one way today but it could be different tomorrow.”Imhof said: “Votes change based on the economy.”Peters said: “This is a model of we need to do and we need to keep it going.”Clawson Mayor Penny Luebs was on hand to take part in the event.
“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “And the time flew by. Our group, and it sounds like all of the groups, was able to discuss and stay with the issues and have a back and forth conversation. All of our votes were not unanimous.”And even though her city’s budget has already been put together for the year, she could see this kind of exercise with Clawson residents could be beneficial on the local level.Birmingham resident Michael McGillivray, a semi-retired musician and self-proclaimed “news junkie,” didn’t know what to expect from the Concord Coalition.“It was quite even-handed,” he said. “I thought given the limitations of the large topic it was about as well done as one could expect. I was very favorably impressed by the exercise.West Bloomfield resident Barb DeMarco said her table, “balanced the things that we wanted with the cuts we needed to make and we had that objective in mind. We actually came up with quite a bit of cuts.”Upon compiling every table’s efforts there was $27 million in savings.Oakland University student Emilia Allen, who also is the director of Multi Cultural Affairs with the OU Student Congress, said she leaned, “What a huge portion of the federal budget that Medicare and Medicaid is. This was really a unique experience.”Not everyone was happy with the content of the event. Mechanical engineer Bill Walker, a 30-year resident of Berkley, thought the subject matter should have been more thorough.“This list should be almost six-, seven-, eight-hundred pages that we’re going through,” Walker said. “And there are probably five to 40 dozen things that aren’t even in here that could cut two to three trillion easily.”Peters and his staff are taking the results back to Washington to discuss with other legislators.
Visit the non-partisan Concord Coalition site www.concordcoalition.org, click on the Educators tab at the bottom of the page, then the Exercises tab and look for the “online budget exercise” and take part.