April 20, 2014

Former Lawmakers Help Students Make Budget Choices

In The Concord Coalition’s newly revised budget exercise, Principles and Priorities, students and other participants break into groups of five to seven to decide on a variety of policy options being discussed in Washington. One goal is to provide a sense of what it is like to be in Congress, discussing and debating issues with other lawmakers.

At two recent events, graduate and undergraduate students had the advantage of actually having former members of Congress in their groups –and found it often changed their perspectives on the country’s fiscal challenges.

At the University of Arizona and George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress helped students understand the political and economic trade-offs in attempting to reduce the deficit.

One exercise was sponsored last month by the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The George Washington University program was held last Saturday.

Almost half of the Arizona students said it changed their views on the nation’s fiscal challenges. Some said they would have more empathy for the other side in political debates, become better informed or focus on helping others become more knowledgeable about budget issues.

At both schools, the students generally agreed that government spending and revenue should both be on the table. Most of the groups found more than $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years – a relatively modest goal that eluded the congressional “super committee” last month.

During their wrap-up sessions, the students emphasized that making group decisions was more difficult than simply making individual decisions on the budget. The need for cooperation by our current leaders, they said, is paramount in finding long-term solutions.