President Obama’s budget is still in the news and on Ed’s mind. It reminds me of an economics course I took in college. One of our exercises was to balance the federal budget. It was an eye-opener then in the ’70s about the really hard choices necessary to achieve balance. Imagine what it’s like today. In fact, you don’t have to. You can play the game yourself (http://crfb.org/stabilizethedebt/).
This bit of nerdy fun quickly grounds this whole discussion in reality. Obama may not have the answer, but at least he has the beginning of one. He believes we have to do two things simultaneously: lower the deficit — through cuts and new taxes — and make some new investments to grow the economy.
For deficit hawks, his budget falls short, but here recent history is instructive. After making the mistake of ignoring the Simpson-Bowles report, the president, much to liberals’ chagrin, put big cuts in entitlements on the table in his aborted talks with House Speaker John Boehner. The deal went nowhere for two reasons: One, Obama never pulled his Perot and took out the charts and graphs and played the “balance the budget game”; and two, and this was really the gating item, Boehner could never sell anything that had any tax increases to his members. Again, if you play the game, you’ll see it really doesn’t work without some new money.
So Obama has himself a political document, part of his campaign North Star for protecting the middle class. It’s okay with me. And when he gets reelected, he could try the boldest experiment ever in participatory democracy: Give everyone another sheet to go with his or her W-2. An exercise or “game”: their share of the deficit and what they would be willing to cut or to raise to make up their share. It might be interesting.