At the foundation of government, there are the people. When political issues arise in Washington D.C., sometimes the best solution may not be found inside the doors of Congress, but rather with the people. On Monday, March 11, 2013, Congressman Pete Visclosky embraced the opportunity to let the constituents of Northwest Indiana voice their principles and priorities as they pertain to balancing the national budget.
In partnership with The Concord Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to bipartisan fiscal solutions, Visclosky hosted a group budget exercise, which allowed approximately 80 participants, of all ages and backgrounds, to experience the trials of the budget process.
“I hope that this event will demonstrate not only how complex our fiscal issues are, but also that they can be solved. All it takes is for us to make difficult choices, set long-term priorities and, above all else, work together,” said Visclosky. “The problem we have asked you to solve in this exercise is not an impossible task. We have presented a balanced budget before.”
During the interactive event, constituents were randomly assigned to work in teams of five to seven to construct a mock federal budget plan and work out solutions to the national debt. They relied on real Congressional Budget Office numbers and real proposals advanced by Members of Congress.
Each group was asked to discuss national, political hot points, such as tax increases or cuts, education reform, healthcare options, defense spending and infrastructure improvements. As each group analyzed the different options, participants were asked to consider three major factors: economics, public policy and politics.
“As you work together, you have to be thinking realistically. Can you defend your decision? Will your supporters continue to support you? These are the questions that Congress Members are continually faced with,” said Phil Smith, national political director of The Concord Coalition.
Groups worked on their own budgets for more than an hour, and, at the end of the evening, a handful of groups had found measures to save upwards of three to four trillion dollars in the national budget. Group chairmen reported at the end of the exercise with most noting that there were some key points that raised serious discussion during the budget process.
Group Chairman Bob Griffith, said, “We had some big ticket discussions, but we were able to work together and compromise.”
Allen Ray, another group representative, said that the majority of budget changes his group decided upon were based on not needing to raise taxes. “I feel we have prepared a pretty decent package.”
Beyond allowing constituents to experience the budget process, Visclosky and Smith listened to how issues were presented and took note to different concerns and possible solutions that each person contributed. As Visclosky joined at each table throughout the night, he made certain that he was there to listen and not to offer solutions.
Visclosky expressed gratitude for participants being an active part in democracy and encouraged them to continue to play an active role in the political foundations shaping the country.
“There is hope. Let us agree on the facts, and let us have discussions on what we each feel is the best path,” he noted. “Question your government but be careful to not become cynical because there are a lot of people trying to resolve these issues by talking and working together.”
Visclosky is one of only 18 members of Congress to partner with The Concord Coalition to host the group budget exercise with local constituents. Both Visclosky and Smith would like to see more events like this throughout the country in order to help the people understand the political process and challenges faced by those in Washington D.C., as well as gain valuable feedback on current issues.
Area residents are encouraged to visit The Concord Coalition (www.concordcoalition.org) and review statistical information, read political reports and share suggestions. Congressman Visclosky also welcomes concerns and suggestions. Visit http://visclosky.house.gov for more information.