President Barack Obama released his 2016-17 budget and Republican leaders in Congress immediately pronounced it dead on arrival. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said the Budget Committee will not even hold a hearing on the president’s budget this year.

What will likely follow is a series of partisan proposals, designed to play to each side’s political base, that are unlikely to produce a sustainable budget or make meaningful progress in reducing the federal deficit.

This is not what voters in either party want. What’s needed is a way to break the gridlock and produce a budget that can win bipartisan support. What if the public could more effectively weigh in and demand better answers from our leaders?

Voice Of the People, a nonpartisan group, has been working on this very question. It has developed some powerful new online tools through its “Citizen Cabinet” initiative to give people a greater voice on complex issues like the budget. Starting out in three states last year, it has recently expanded to five more, including California.

The California Citizen Cabinet is a scientifically selected online panel of roughly 600 registered voters who will be going through a series of policy-making simulations on key issues facing Congress, including one just completed on the federal budget. Participants get a briefing on the issue, are presented options Congress is considering with pro and con arguments for each, then are asked to make their choices.

All the materials are reviewed in advance by top Democratic and Republican staff experts in Congress and various outside groups to make sure the information is accurate and unbiased. The offices of California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have been briefed on the results, which also have been distributed to every member of Congress and released to the public.

The findings from the budget survey offer both good news and not-so-good news to congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle. Republicans can point to the fact that Californians in both parties are far more serious about reducing the deficit than Congress or the president, with majorities wanting to cut the deficit by $280 billion next year – more than twice what Obama proposes. Democrats can point to the fact that a majority of Californians support raising taxes on upper-income taxpayers, including a majority of Republicans as well as Democrats.


This first appeared in The Sacramento Bee on March 14, 2016. To read the full op-ed, click here.

Vic Fazio, who represented California’s 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts from 1979 to 1999, serves on the advisory board of Voice Of the People. He can be contacted at

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President Barack Obama and leading Republican presidential candidates have called for increasing defense spending. However, given the opportunity to make their own defense budget, a majority of voters (61 percent) cut defense spending in a new in-depth Citizen Cabinet survey. Not even a majority of Republicans made increases. A report of the survey’s findings, “Rightsizing Defense: The Perspective of the People” was released today.

In the survey, a representative sample of more than 7,000 registered voters across the country were first presented detailed, nonpartisan information and competing arguments about the current defense budget. The majority trimmed annual spending by $12 billion, including ground forces by $4 billion (or 3 percent), nuclear weapons by $3 billion (13  percent), air power by $2 billion (1.5 percent), naval forces by $2 billion (2 percent) and missile defense by $1 billion (13 percent). Special operations and the marines were left untouched. No areas were increased.

A majority of Democrats cut $36 billion, independents $20 billion; while there was not majority support for either increases or decreases among Republicans. African American respondents cut the budget $34 billion; Hispanics cut $20 billion.

In addition, 54 percent of respondents approved of cutting the F-35 program, saving $97 billion through 2037. Reducing the numbers of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10 was approved by six-in-ten, saving $7 billion over the next ten years.

Once the results of the survey are released, a public version of the simulation is posted at for anyone to try. It can be found here

The survey’s report can be found here

The questionnaire can be found here

A supplemental questionnaire with data for Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and districts MD-7 and OK-4 can be found here

To read more, click here

The latest budget news from Capitol Hill – that the Republicans on the House Budget Committee are postponing markup of the annual tax and spending framework until March – sure sounds like a tune we’ve all heard before. Instead of coming together to move the budget process forward, another round of partisanship is moving us toward gridlock. The net result, instead of coming up with a budget that reduces the deficit the way Congress has agreed they will, Congress is simply kicking the can further down the road.

There is a way to help get beyond the current impasse: members of Congress can look to what an informed representative sample of Americans – called a Citizen Cabinet – has said on the budget and use that as a guide for finding common ground.

Voice Of the People’s recent, national survey of the Citizen Cabinet included nearly 7,000 registered voters and found majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree on measures that would reduce the projected deficit by $52 billion. Yes, actual bipartisan agreement that would cut the deficit.

The in-depth survey was developed by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland and was vetted with congressional staffers from both parties. The panel was recruited by Nielsen Scarborough. Once the survey is completed by the representative panel, the simulation is made available at for anyone to try for themselves.

In it, respondents were presented the president’s FY 2016 budget and sources of general revenues, and then given the opportunity to propose their own federal budget. After a briefing on the deficit and hearing strong pro and con arguments whether or not it should be cut, clear majorities agreed on $10 billion in spending cuts. No spending areas were increased by a majority of Americans.

Perhaps even more noteworthy: The biggest deficit reductions came from revenue increases totaling $41 billion that drew bipartisan support. Despite what many in Congress are saying, the American people seem open to a balanced approach that includes both cutting spending and raising taxes (on the wealthy, at least).

The most striking difference between the president’s proposed budget and the people’s budget is that the majority of the people go further than the president in cutting the deficit, even though they had fewer options for making changes. If the president were to get all the changes he proposes – a big if, given congressional dynamics – he would reduce the projected deficit $113 billion for 2017.

The majority of Americans, however, reduce the projected deficit more than twice as much – $277 billion, through a combination of $58 billion in spending cuts and $219 billion in revenue increases. Eighty two percent find convincing the argument that reducing the deficit should be a top priority.

At the same time, the public does have some similarities to Congress, as there were substantial differences between Republicans and Democrats. Their level of spending cuts is similar, but they target different areas; and while Republicans do raise revenues, they do so much less than Democrats.

Nonetheless they are able to find substantial common ground. Majorities of both parties converge on $10 billion of spending cuts, led by cuts to subsidies to agricultural corporations ($3 billion), and followed by $1 billion cuts to seven other programs.

Interestingly, many of the areas of agreement for revenue increases are ones proposed in Obama’s budget. While he is not entirely precise about how he plans to do so, the president proposes increasing revenues from the wealthy by $56 billion in 2017, increasing to twice that amount by 2024. In the survey a majority of both Republicans and Democrats favor a 5 percent increase in the income taxes on incomes over $200,000, generating $34 billion. The overall majority (but not Republicans) go further and raise income taxes on incomes over $1 million by 10 percent, raising the total revenue generated to $49 billion – nearly matching Obama’s proposed short term increase for 2017, but not his long term one.

Very large majorities from both parties also adopt two other ideas that appeared in Obama’s 2016 budget and reappeared this year. One is taxing carried interest as ordinary income (i.e. doing away with the hedge fund manager’s tax break), generating $1.8 billion. Another is requiring large financial institutions to pay a fee of seven-tenths of a percent on their uninsured debt, generating $6 billion.

Another proposal from the president – to raise the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends from 23.8 to 28 percent (yielding $15-22 billion) – is supported by three quarters overall and half of Republicans.

So, when members of Congress complain that finding common ground on the federal budget is too hard a task, it is important to note that the American people can do it – in less than half an hour. Perhaps it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and start listening to the common sense of the American people.

— Steven Kull


This op-ed first appeared in The Hill on March 1, 2016

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