Winona area residents wrestled with how much debt they were prepared to leave their children — and grandchildren — Monday night.
At an exercise and discussion about the ballooning federal deficit, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., partnered with the Concord Coalition, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for fiscal responsibility. At a meeting that was part town-hall discussion, part workshop, more than 50 area residents gathered on Winona State University’s campus and participated in a discussion about how to reduce the national deficit. Their goal was to balance the budget and wipe out the shortfall.
Walz represents Minnesota’s First Congressional District, which includes Winona, Rochester and Mankato.
Congress passed the 2011 federal budget on April 14, 2011. The budget plan calls for $3.8 trillion in spending through September 2011 with a projected deficit of $1.3 trillion.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the debt will reach nearly 70 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 — the highest since the World War II era. This spike in national debt is the result of multiple factors including lower tax revenues and increased federal spending in response to the recession, as well spending and revenue imbalances that existed prior to the recession.
Participants in Monday’s meeting broke into small groups to work through an exercise in which they acted as members of Congress and decided how to balance the budget. They made decisions on sections of the budget that dealt with health care, defense, mortgage deductions and other issues.
Walz and his staff went from table to table answering questions and informing groups on how Walz’s colleagues in Washington may respond to the legislative decisions made by attendees in the exercise. Walz plans to integrate data gathered at town hall meetings in Winona and Rochester into congressional discussions in Washington.
“Each and every one of us should be part of the decision-making process,” said Walz. “We need to approach these issues with facts, with vision, and with a common goal.”
Walz and attendees’ discussion often focused on the impact the debt will have on future generations.
“It’s a legitimate concern to invest in what’s best for our kids and grandkids,” said Winona resident Hans Madland. “I think it’s irresponsible, selfish, and immature to have an attitude that doesn’t work towards what’s best for future generations.”
Walz agreed, adding “If we don’t solve this, there will be no money to educate future generations, no money to build them roads.”
Sara Imhof, midwest regional director for the Concord Coalition, said the goal of these town hall meetings is not only to facilitate discussion, but to educate.
” Using numbers and facts helps diffuse the partisanship nature of politics,” Imhof said. “We give the citizens the facts and the numbers, and let them make decisions for themselves.”