EDITORIAL: Can you balance the federal budget?

York Dispatch

From politicians to businessmen to economists to ordinary citizens, plenty of people have opinions on the federal budget deficit.

Scott Perry

At a projected $534 billion for 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office, it's a huge topic. And while there are some people (economist and columnist Paul Krugman comes to mind) who say the U.S. doesn't need to worry about the deficit, many more people want the deficit to be reduced or even disappear entirely.

That's where the Concord Coalition comes in. The nonpartisan group wants Americans to look at the budget and see what choices need to be made to cut the deficit.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, is giving constituents a chance to use the Concord Coalition's Principles & Priorities exercise to look at tax and spending priorities and learn what it's like to try to balance the two.

Think you can balance the federal budget?

Perry will host an interactive workshop at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 1, at York College. Seating for the workshop is limited, and anyone wishing to attend must RSVP by contacting Perry's office at PA4RSVP@mail.house.gov, or (717) 600-1919. Those attending will be split into teams of five to 10 people and will form their own budget plan.

If you want to try this fascinating exercise on your own, go to www.federalbudgetchallenge.org and take the challenge. For each section, you are given a choice of programs to cut or invest in, with costs over 10 years, plus arguments for the action and arguments against.

Here are some of the choices:

  • Cut $49 billion by reducing the size of the federal workforce through attrition. Pros: It would reduce management and eliminate services that aren't cost-effective, and also trim workers in jobs that don't require a college degree. Cons: The civilian workforce is about the same as it was 20 years ago, so cutting the workforce would mean cutting programs; also the workforce is already strained and more reductions would impeded the government's ability to fulfill its mission.
  • Spend $1.51 trillion by allowing discretionary spending to grow at the same rate as the economy, as it has over the past few decades; or cut $929 billion by freezing discretionary spending levels without adjusting for inflation over 10 years.
  • Cut $672 billion by increasing the maximum table earnings cap for the Social Security payroll tax. Pros: It would improve Social Security's long-term financial outlook and make the payroll tax less regressive. Cons: Some revenues would be offset by additional retirement benefits and would reduce the rewards for working people with earnings above the current maximum of $118,000. 
  • Raise $1.2 trillion by engaging in revenue-increasing comprehensive tax reform and create three new tax brackets of 9 percent, 15 percent and 24 percent. Pros: It would reduce taxpayer frustration, wouldn't raise tax rates and would maintain progressiveness in the tax code. Cons: It would give a large reduction to the wealthiest while placing more burden for spending cuts on discretionary spending, Medicare and Social Security, and eliminating the mortgage interest deduction would harm the housing industry.

Federal Budget Challenge

While the challenge isn't comprehensive, it will certainly provoke policy discussions among the teams. We hope Perry will listen to what his constituents are saying about the programs they want to keep and the ones they could do without.