August 28, 2014

The Federal Budget Challenge

This week marks the debut of Concord's new, online budget game -- The Federal Budget Challenge.

Based on our Principles and Priorities game, which has been used for years in hundreds of classrooms and town hall meetings across the country, users work through 11 different policy categories and choose the spending and tax policies that fit their preferences while being mindful of their budgetary effects.

Developed in partnership with the California-based non-profit Next 10, this online tool tracks the effect of individual policy choices on interest costs and the projected 10-year budget deficit as the choices are made. The game has already been mentioned in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

It is important to point out what this game is and isn't. The main idea of the game is to give people an overview of what some of the most commonly discussed spending cuts and tax increases are among policymakers in Washington DC and what the basic arguments for and against those policies tend to be. We rely heavily on options that are officially "scored" by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in their series of "Budget Options" publications. Players get to digest this information and learn a little about policy while getting some perspective on the relative costs among different choices and with the 10-year projected deficit.  

This game does have limitations. One, its focus on the 10-year budget window precludes major discussion about the long-term fiscal challenge and the substantial reforms necessary to attack it. Also, because of the 10 year focus, many of the major reforms related to these challenges would be expected to have most of their impact outside that window.

Another limitation is that because Concord's Plausible Baseline deficit is $14.4 trillion, it is virtually impossible to come up with enough policy choices to achieve a balanced budget, while still keeping the discussion grounded in the policy realities of today's Washington. This however, is instructive in-and-of-itself. 

There is one last limitation worth mentioning. Principles and Priorities was designed to be a group activity, with students or other participants having different perspectives, yet still being forced to reach consensus decisions on options. The Federal Budget Challenge will be primarily used by individuals in the comfort of their own home or office. This obviously makes the task easier. So, when taking the challenge, please remember that while the decisions may be difficult for you, they would be even harder if you had to accommodate other people in a group of peers. And even harder than that if your job depended on your decisions and how well they sit with a large number of constituents, interest groups, ones political party.

These limitations do not at all diminish our excitement for this new venture and they accurately reflect political and budgetary reality. We hope that you enjoy the game and send us your feedback. We can also help facilitate classroom or group usage of the Federal Budget Challenge or any of our other education exercises through our field staff and our partner, Next 10.