Senator Chris Murphy Visits Rowe for Budget Exercise

Published Apr 17, 2014. By Nicholas Shigo.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat, answered constituents’ questions and heard their suggestions on the national budget at a town hall meeting yesterday in Rowe Hall.Murphy hopes that meetings like this one will help get people involved in the issue he sees as central: the mounting national debt, which, according to his presentation, is at approximately $680 billion in 2013.According to Murphy, spending is expected to grow towards Social Security, medical aid programs and interest on the national debt.Murphy worked with the Concord Coalition group to present the Principles and Priorities workshop to University of Connecticut students and residents of Eastern Connecticut outside the university.The Concord Coalition is a non-partisan group committed to educating the public about what causes federal budget deficits, and the consequences to the American people through the use of interactive presentations about cutting deficit spending.Workshops similar to this one have been hosted across the country according to Chase Hagaman, New England regional director of the Concord Coalition.“The great thing about this exercise is it covers a wide swath of policy,” Hagaman said.Spending was divided into categories that incorporate military spending, health care and social security, taxes and general government spending.Attendees were divided into groups of five or six and given a workbook filled with yes-or-no decisions regarding U.S. spending policy, giving citizens a hands-on experience of fiscal issues.As groups voted on the issues, their decisions added or subtracted the spending needed for the program to a hypothetical U.S. budget.Because groups consisted of both students and older Connecticut residents of differing party identity, discussions on certain issues were often divisive.The intergenerational dialogue is one part of the program that Murphy encourages.“Issues affect seniors differently than students,” Murphy said. “But seniors were once students and students will soon be seniors.”Students and older attendees seemed most divided on spending for Medicare and Medicaid, as well as on subsidies granted through the Affordable Care Act.Murphy and Concord Coalition representatives hope that attendees learned about what causes increases in national debt and expel any misconceptions about the subject.As groups discussed the issues, Murphy moved between them, listening to their conversations and votes.Murphy uses events like these to gauge what is important to his constituents.“It’s helpful for me to see how people are struggling with questions,” Murphy said. “I think people really enjoy the chance for an interactive discussion about the budget.After the groups finished discussing and voting on the issues, Murphy asked the groups how much they managed to decrease the deficit by. Every group but one managed to decrease spending in their hypothetical budget by approximately two trillion dollars, with one group increasing it by about that amount.He then asked groups what topic generated the most discussion. Disagreements on whether to cut spending on the military or Social Security, and whether funding should be granted to programs such as Federal Emergency Management Agency were common.Most in attendance thought the event was a good way to learn about the funding issues of the federal government and join in the conversation with others across party lines.“It was really interesting,” said UConn alumni Ben Shaiken. “I’m a Democrat and paired with half Republicans, and it was surprising what we agreed on.”Shaiken said that his group, which consisted of three older Republican voters and three Democrats in their twenties, agreed on most decisions regarding taxes, but disagreed on issues regarding the government’s support of those in dire economic situations.“I think it was definitely really educational and gave people a sense of how difficult the funding process is,” Shaikensaid.Some were not so enthusiastic about the workshop. Robert Vogel, of East Lyme, enjoyed the student perspective on issues, but thought the questions were loaded in a way that directed participants to conclusions about the issues.“Some questions were more confusing,” Vogel said. “They did not bring light to the process, but brought a fog to it.”Hagaman and his co-presenter Chad Laurie, Concord Coalition policy analyst, said that the event had a great mix of young and older participants, but the results were surprisingly consistent. They enjoyed hearing the different perspectives and experiences that the varied demographic brought to the discussions.“The event went really well,” Hagaman said. “It was exactly what we wanted to happen.”