Nearly 200 Iowa residents slipped into the role of congressional deficit-cutters on Monday night, and in many cases were able to reach agreement on the sort of sweeping fiscal reforms that have so far eluded Congress.
Working in groups of six to eight people, the participants reviewed, debated and voted on dozens of different tax and spending options in “Principles and Priorities,” an exercise developed and recently updated by The Concord Coalition.
The program was co-hosted by the Des Moines Register and Drake University’s College of Business and Public Administration. Rick Green, vice president and editor of the Des Moines Register, opened the program Monday night at Drake, expressing deep concern over a federal debt that now totals about $15 trillion.
With many groups including a mix of college students, workers and retirees, the discussions ranged over questions such as how heavily older Americans should rely on younger ones, whether the benefits of a 25-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase outweighed the negatives, and how much the defense budget could be reduced without jeopardizing national security.
Towards the end of the evening, many of the groups reported that they had developed plans that would reduce projected deficits over the next decade by $3 trillion, $4 trillion or even more. Those levels compare favorably to the goal of $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion that Congress assigned to its super committee on deficit reduction.
A number of groups Monday night approved plans to raise the eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare, a result that Concord Executive Director Robert L. Bixby said was surprising. “That tends to be a real bone of contention,” he said.
Noting Iowa’s early role in the presidential nominating process, Bixby encouraged participants in the exercise to question candidates about fiscal reform and to express their views to their members of Congress as well.
Assuming the role of a worried member of Congress, one man noted that after his group had made so many tough budget decisions, “we’re probably not going to get re-elected.”