Federal Budget Cover L3As Congress finally takes action on the budget, in a new Citizen Cabinet survey that gave respondents the opportunity to make their own budget, majorities recommended changes to President Barack Obama’s proposed FY 2016 budget and new revenues that not only met the requirements of the Budget Control Act, but cut the deficit by $280 billion.

While Republicans and Democrats differed significantly in many areas, majorities did converge on steps that would reduce the deficit by $73 billion which nearly covers the $75 billion that the administration’s budget exceeded the sequester caps of the Budget Control Act.

“After Congress’s persistent failures to deal with the budget, the public shows that it is quite capable of making difficult choices when given the right tools,” said Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation, University of Maryland and president of Voice Of the People.

Unlike a standard poll, Citizen Cabinet surveys take respondents through an online process called a ‘policymaking simulation’ that gives respondents information and seeks to put them in the shoes of a policymaker. The simulation is vetted with Congressional staffers from both parties and other experts before it goes into the field.

In this simulation a representative panel of 1,271 registered voters were presented the administration’s proposed 2016 discretionary budget (broken into 31 line items), and actual and proposed sources of revenue, and given the opportunity to make changes to spending and revenues as they saw fit, getting constant feedback about the effects of their changes on the projected budget deficit.

Though they were not asked to try to comply with the Budget Control Act, the majority cut the President’s national defense spending by $38 billion, coincidentally bringing it right under the sequester cap for defense spending. Non-defense spending was cut by $16 billion, lead by a $4 billion cut to subsidies for agricultural corporations with large farms.

However, increased revenue from a variety of sources more than offset the remaining $18 billion needed to bring the administration’s budget under the non-defense limit according to the terms of the Act. Still the Citizen Cabinet’s budget relies on spending cuts substantially more than the agreement carved out this week by Congressional leaders to bring the budget in line with the Act.

Two new revenue sources that were called for in the president’s budget, were approved by large bipartisan majorities. Two thirds endorsed raising the tax on capital gains and dividends from 23.8 to 28 percent (yielding $22 billion) and three quarters approved a new tax on uninsured debt held by large banks (yielding $6 billion).

Other options for generating revenues were also considered.

The largest revenue increase came from a new tax on carbon dioxide emissions that was modeled by the Congressional Budget Office, that would increase energy costs $5 a month for the average household and generate $100 billion in revenue. This plan was endorsed by 56 percent, including majorities of Democrats (75 percent) and independents (55 percent), but not Republicans (30 percent).

Respondents were able to adjust the income tax rates of specific tax brackets. Majorities increased taxes on incomes over $200,000 by 5 percent and on incomes over 1 million by 10 percent, producing revenues of $49 billion. Republicans, made the 5 percent increases as well, though they did not make the extra bump-up for incomes over $1 million, generating a smaller $34 billion in revenues.

Including all of the various possible revenue sources, as well as spending cuts, respondents from all parties made deep cuts to the deficit. Democrats reduced the deficit the most ($293 billion), followed closely by independents ($264 billion). Republicans reduced it $113 billion.

“While Republicans in Congress may be encouraged by the publics’ determination to cut the deficit, Democrats may be encouraged by the fact that the public did not cut spending as much as they raised revenues,” Kull said.

Overall the changes on which Republicans and Democrats agree yielded $9.3 billion in spending cuts and $63.9 billion in revenue increases for a total of $73.2 billion in deficit reduction.

The biggest difference in spending between the parties was that national defense was cut $38 billion by a majority of Democrats, but just $2 billion by a majority of Republicans. This was the primary reason that Democrats made overall slightly deeper spending cuts ($52 billion) than Republicans ($49.3 billion), though Republicans cut spending in more areas.

Democrats made much larger revenue increases ($240.6 billion), but Republicans still made substantial revenue increases ($63.9 billion), and a majority of Republicans raised revenues more than they cut spending.

The 1,271 panelists were recruited to participate in the Citizen Cabinet by Nielsen Scarborough from its larger national panel recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.7 percent. The survey was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation, School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

The report “How the American People Would Change the U.S. Federal Budget” can be found at: http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Federal-Budget-Report.pdf

The survey’s questionnaire can be found at: http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Federal_Budget_Quaire.pdf

A public version of the policymaking simulation can be found at: http://vop.org/consultations/

Social Security – often called the most successful government program ever devised – is used by a substantial portion of U.S. citizens.

A recent story the Washington Post noted: “About 65 million retired and disabled workers, spouses and children collect Social Security benefits every month, the equivalent of about 1 in 4 households.”

Something however, must be done to address a looming funding shortfall. If no changes are made, the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted in 2033 and after that, it will only be able to deliver benefits based on current receipts – resulting in a 23 percent cut to retirees.

Congress has failed to address this looming crisis for years, in part, because of a widespread perception that the American public is not willing to face the issue, but is that really the case?

Our Citizen Cabinet survey earlier this year tells a different story.

A representative panel of registered voters nationally, as well as statewide in Oklahoma, Maryland and Virginia, were asked to go through a policymaking simulation that provided them a background briefing, presented arguments for and against various policy options being considered by Congress and finally asked to choose which options they would recommend to cover the shortfall.

The entire simulation was vetted in advance with top Republican and Democratic Congressional committee staffers as well as outside experts, to make sure the best arguments were made and the issue was presented fairly.

The findings were both enlightening and highly relevant to today’s debate. Nationally and in all three states, large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats agreed on steps that would cover at least two-thirds of the Social Security shortfall. More modest majorities made recommendations that would completely eliminate the shortfall, primarily by eliminating the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. You can find all of the survey’s results here. And try the simulation for yourself here.

While Congress continues delay key reforms in the latest go-around on the budget, the American people have shown they are ready to make the hard choices their representatives in Washington continue to avoid.

The people, it seems, are two steps ahead and ready to make a deal.

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