About 50 people tackled the federal government's $680 billion deficit Wednesday morning at the Rialto Theater Center and came up with solutions that U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., plans to bring back to Washington.
Polis hosted the federal budget workshop, the first of what he anticipates will be a series of events across his district, with nonpartisan, national organizations The Concord Coalition and Fix the Debt.
"I will learn from your work," Polis told exercise participants. "We will take the solutions that you come up with and post them on our website; I will talk about them on the House floor."
Economic recovery, the expiration of Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans and the sequester have helped draw down the debt — about a 40 percent reduction — but Polis said there's still a long way to go, citing a need to look long-term.
"The current deficit spending level is unsustainable, and coupled with the integrity of our entitlement programs looking out at a 10 or 20 year time frame, that is why this exercise is so important," Polis said.
Presented with dozens of real issues currently on the table in Washington in categories including general government spending, health care and Social Security and taxes and revenue, participants split into small groups to look at every issue.
Each proposal — elimination of the Affordable Care Act, elimination of tax subsidies for the oil and gas industry, allowance of discretionary spending, for example — was attached to a scored positive or negative impact on the deficit.
"We have to look across all areas of the federal government and recognize how they all play together to come up with a good solution," said Sara Imhof, who is the midwest regional director of The Concord Coalition.
But the options are not easy ones, and in groups where majority ruled, participants engaged in sometimes heated debate over tax scenarios and education spending.
"It would be easy to solve this issue if everybody all agreed," Polis said. "We have to solve this issue not as Democrats and as Republicans ... but as a country, and there's trade-offs and nothing's easy."
The exercise, which resulted in every group but one reducing the deficit, is an example of why Polis supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, he said.
Residents who were unable to attend the Wednesday event but want to voice their opinions about how to balance the federal budget can download the "Principles & Priorities" exercise atconcordcoalition.org. Results will be forwarded to Polis' office.