With advice and encouragement from two former U.S. House members, participants in a federal budget exercise Monday in Lawrence, Kansas developed broad fiscal reform plans that would put the government on a more responsible course over the next 10 years.
The afternoon exercise was held at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas, and was co-sponsored by The Concord Coalition and Fix the Debt. The former House members who spoke and worked with groups of participants were Jim Slattery, a Democrat who had represented Lawrence, and Tom Tauke, a Republican from Iowa.
Concord Executive Director Robert L. Bixby provided an overview of the fiscal challenges facing the government and ran the exercise, in which groups of five or six people considered an array of policy options. Many of the options came from the recommendations of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Simpson-Bowles).
The discussions ranged from whether to keep automatic budget cuts in place to which tax reform options were most practical. Colleges students and retirees exchanged views on possible changes in the entitlement programs, including the use of a different index (“chained CPI”) to determine cost-of-living increases in Social Security.
Like lawmakers and health care policy experts, participants in the exercise also wrestled with the possible implications of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).
In the end, most groups met the goal of at least $2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years, with one particularly ambitious plan promising $3.3 trillion. Several participants said compromise was essential, and noted that real-world special-interest pressures would have made the job more difficult.