November 22, 2014

‘Principles and Priorities’ Exercise in Colorado Highlights Need for Compromise

About a hundred people in Colorado’s 1st Congressional District tried their hands Saturday at federal deficit reduction through The Concord Coalition’s Principles and Priorities exercise.

Most eventually succeeded in slicing deficits over the next decade by several trillion dollars. It wasn’t easy, but their efforts highlighted the benefits of open discussion and a willingness to compromise. U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette hosted the event.

The participants gathered Saturday morning at Columbine High School in Littleton. They included people from across the political spectrum: Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals and libertarians.

Divided into a dozen groups of five to nine people, they took on the role of members of Congress in considering dozens of budget options as scored by the Congressional Budget Office. The options fell into four categories: general government spending; military and homeland security; health care and Social Security; and revenue.

After a welcome by Rep. DeGette and a PowerPoint briefing on the federal budget’s history and trends, the participants dove into their assignment.

After almost two hours of hard work, good-natured debate, arm-twisting, calls for the question, votes, re-votes, several outbreaks of laughter and, most of all, compromise – the groups reported on their budget plans. While every group had a different solution, each of them found a way to significantly reduce projected budget deficits over the next 10 years.

All of the groups agreed on both spending cuts and new revenue. Some groups increased spending in some areas but cut others. In some groups, new revenue exceeded the total for all of their spending cuts. Other tables cut $10 in spending for each $1 in new revenue.

On average, though, the 12 groups cut spending and increased revenue in roughly equal amounts. They found an average of just under $3 trillion in spending cuts and new revenue over the next 10 years to help reduce annual deficits and stabilize the nation’s debt.

The group with the most deficit reduction found $4.537 trillion. The lowest total was $1.441 trillion.

Several constituents commented on the difficulty of the budget decisions, and how they could not make progress without compromise. Some joked that if they were actually members of Congress, they might have trouble getting reelected.

But when Congresswoman DeGette asked the whole group if the exercise was worthwhile, it looked like every hand went up.