Last Wednesday, MSU students had some very important decisions to make.
They were charged with the task of balancing the federal budget.
Their choices: eliminate the dollar bill, increase the gas tax by 25 cents or repeal the 2010 health care reform legislation.
U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, along with the Concord Coalition, led 38 students through an interactive exercise designed to fix the nation’s monetray problems.
The Concord Coalition, a national, grassroots organization, conducts more than 60 exercises a year with both democratic and republican politicians.
After being broken up into special committees, students were able to craft their own version of the federal budget.
The goal was to reduce the projected 10-year federal deficit.
“The exercise asked if we wanted to take away money from the safety of Amtrak,” senior history major Sierra Trenhaile said. “I never thought that Amtrak was a federal issue. I assumed it just involved the state. Our committee decided to take money away from Amtrak.”
Each point was discussed and decided by majority rule. The committees also had to consider economics, public policy and politics.
Senior nursing major Zach Davis was chosen as chairperson for his committee and said he had no idea how multifaceted the budgeting process was.
“I think it’s great that the congressman wants to hear students’ opinions,” Davis said. “It shows that he is interested in what students want and so are his constituencies.”
Students learned that when it comes to making the tough decisions they have to look at all the options.
“This is very critical because some people lose and some people gain,” sophomore finance major Elisa Pierre said.
The congressman received a summary of each committee’s decisions to take to Washington when the real budget is on the house floor next month.
Thornberry said student opinion is important to him, especially on the issue of the federal spending.
“The debt that we add now is going to have to be paid for by students who are going to work for years to come,” he said. “If you think about it, students are going to have to work more and more and pay more and more taxes to pay for the bills that my generation is raking up. That is wrong.”
Phil Smith, southern regional director of the Concord Coalition, said the deficits that concern him most are those that will be implemented in the near future.
“Those deficits are going to be larger and they are just unsustainable because they go up and up,” Smith said. “Those are the ones that the government really needs to get a hold of. The government had the time to fix these problems when the economy was good and blew it.
Smith, who has worked for Concord Coalition for 17 years, said issues such as the budget disproportionately affect young people, but they are underrepresented.
“Young people are constitutionally prohibited from running for offices so even constitutionally young people are discriminated against,” Smith said. “So young people are underrepresented in Congress and they are overrepresented in terms of having to pay for these problems over the long haul.”
Thornberry said the increasing debt and deficit limit students’ opportunities.
“In order to turn this around we’re going to have to enlist (student) aid,” he said. “A lot of the programs like Social Security and Medicaid are going to have to change and they are going to change for younger people. It is important for them to understand why they have to change and this is what I hope they learned from the exercise.”
Thornberry said students are more informed about political issues such as federal budgets and the national debt than they have been in the past.
“The Internet brings so much information right to us, but still it is a little different to know it than to have to go through these exercises and make the big decisions,” he said.
Thornberry said this exercise was helpful for him to hear students’ conversations and decisions.
“(This exercise) helps me do a better job representing them and everyone else in our area,” he said. “I hope it is good for the students as they learn where their money goes and the kind of decisions needed to get our fiscal house in order.”
Thornberry said to really balance the budget students will have to deal with harder programs that affect real people.
During the Clinton administration, the fiscal year 2000 had a federal budget surplus, making it the largest in U.S. history
The federal budget was balanced and the federal deficit was erased.
Since then, Thornberry said there are two critical reasons why the budget has shifted dramatically.
“The economy slowed down, so less money in taxes went into the government,” he said. “Secondly, we had 9/11 and we had to spend a lot more money on defense. The problem is we didn’t cut other things. So we increased spending on defense and didn’t cut anything else and the taxes went down.”
Thornberry said the deficit started to decrease until 2008 when America had an economic slowdown.
“Then we had the stimulus spending and other things that just opened it up to historic proportions,” he said.
The exercise doesn’t really deal with what’s happening with the current economy, which Thornberry said is slowly growing.
“When the economy grows, more people are working and more people are paying their taxes,” he said. “That also means more money coming into the federal government and it shrinks the deficit. That is a very good thing, but now we have way too many people unemployed.”
A big challenge for representatives in Washington, he said, is to provide some certainty so businesses can make decisions, grow and get the economy moving again.
“The number one thing I was impressed by is how serious students take this and the high level for discussions,” he said. “They just aren’t making casual decisions. They are making the values involved and the consequences of these decisions. To me, that is incredibly encouraging because it does show that young people are taking this seriously and that is very important to me.”