Federal Budget Impasse - Think You Could Do Better?

As President Obama and Congressional leaders continue to battle over the federal budget, namely what government programs to cut and what taxes to increase, a new computer game gives you the chance to set spending priorities for the federal government.   Players of Budget Hero quickly discover how difficult it is to achieve their policy objectives while keeping the government from going broke.

The game is a product of American Public Media, one of the nation’s most popular public radio producers, whose programs include Marketplace and A Prairie Home Companion.   Its tagline: “If You Ever Wanted to Control Where Your Tax Dollars Go, Here’s Your Chance to Decide.”

Decide to rapidly decrease the number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq?  You’ll save almost $1.2 billion.  Raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and you’ll save $157 billion.   Keeping the Bush tax cuts will cost you $2.6 billion, extending them for everyone but the wealthiest brings the cost down to almost $2.1 billion.   Raise the gas tax by 25 cents or eliminate it completely – it’s up to you, but be prepared to pay the consequences.

An Associated Press article describes what happens when two college students, one Republican and the other Democratic, try out the game:

“The Republican extended the Bush-era tax cuts, cut spending for the arts and humanities and reduced congressional budgets. The Democrat went after a green badge by raising the federal tax on gasoline and ending tax breaks for big oil companies, while also expanding health insurance coverage.  Both plans saw the government go broke — reaching a point where there isn’t enough money to cover mandatory programs such as Social Security, Medicare and interest on the debt — in the 2030s.”

Former Rep. Jane Harman, who resigned earlier this year to head the Woodrow Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank that developed the game with American Public Media, told the Associated Press that “our timing turns out to be perfect.”   Calling the game a valuable teaching tool, she explained that players quickly begin to understand the “difficult choices involved in reducing the deficit and raising the debt limit.”