Show Congress How This Is Done

Published Aug 27, 2013.

This may sound a bit like dropping a roll of Mentos into a bottle of Coke, but folks from all political persuasions — from Tea Party conservatives to Occupy liberals — are being invited to fill a ballroom in Duluth next week to talk politics for two hours. Specifically, they’re being asked to discuss the federal budget and to do what Congress sometimes seems determined never to do: find common ground and come to some agreements.

The general public is invited, too — to participate, not to spectate.

And they just might be surprised at what happens, organizers insist.

“At the ends of these exercises, people realize they have a lot more in common than they have in opposition,” said Jeff Anderson, district director in Duluth for U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a sponsor of the Wednesday, Sept. 4, “Deficit Reduction Forum” in the Kirby Ballroom at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

The interactive forum is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Other sponsors include the News Tribune; the nonpartisan, nonprofit, Washington, D.C.,-based Concord Coalition; the University of Minnesota Duluth; and UMD’s Masters of Advocacy and Political Leadership program.

Call it a “real-time federal budget exercise,” as literature for the event does.

“How would you balance the federal budget?” asked the invitations and press release.

Run by the Concord Coalition, the exercise will divide participants into small groups, each of which will be given real-life options and numbers related to the nation’s budget and debt situations. The small groups will be asked to discuss policy alternatives to reduce projected deficits. They’ll be instructed to talk about discretionary and defense spending, Medicare and Social Security reform proposals, and taxes.

“When we establish a federal budget, we are setting our priorities as a nation,” Nolan said in a release. “In this exercise, you and your fellow participants will assume the role of members of Congress — debating and deciding what programs to fund, where to cut, where to add, and how much. I will be there to help and to listen. And I’ll be taking your recommendations back to Washington.”

Sounds like a worthwhile civic exercise, no matter what your political persuasion.

“This is completely nonpartisan,” Anderson assured the News Tribune Opinion page. “And it’s increasingly timely because September is going to be a mess in Washington with budget battles.”

So let’s see if we can do better. Let’s participate and show Congress how it’s done — and that it can be done.