With the year coming to a close we pause to take a breath, thank our followers and reflect for a few moments on our efforts in 2016.

The Citizen Cabinet was greatly expanded this year to include a larger national panel, with several thousand participants now taking part in each study. Along with our work in Maryland, Oklahoma and Virginia, we also began operating in the three most populous states, California, New York and Texas as well as Florida and Ohio.

Registered voters from across the country considered policymaking simulations on several topics, including the federal budget, defense spending, U.S. energy policy, and Social Security reform. During the heat of the presidential campaign, we also looked into voter attitudes about American politics and government, using more standard survey techniques. This interesting study revealed an unprecedented level of dissatisfaction with government based on the broadly-held perception that it fails to listen to the people. The next Citizen Cabinet surveys will be on Medicare and U.S. programs to fight poverty.

In May, we released an abridged report on American attitudes toward the Clean Power Plan, as part of “Climate Action 2016,” a large, 3-day conference in College Park and Washington, DC. The event, hosted by the University of Maryland, included climate experts from around the globe. That study was highlighted at a Q&A session with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, moderated by science educator and TV personality Bill Nye.

With more states now part of the Citizen Cabinet program, our outreach on Capitol Hill became even more extensive. We’ve had more than five dozen individual meetings with congressional offices and members of Congress this year, including briefings with key staffers from Speaker Paul Ryan and House Leader Nancy Pelosi’s offices.

We also conducted several major group staff briefings: In February we presented our findings on the federal budget, in March on defense spending and in August on energy policy. In September and October we briefed staffers from the House Ways and Means committee. On September 12, we presented findings on energy policy at a very-well attended event at the Brookings Institution that included William Reilly, former EPA administrator for George HW Bush. On October 18, we partnered with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget for a special event in the Capitol to present our findings on Social Security reform in front of a standing-room-only audience of more than 100 staffers, policy experts and reporters.

On the media front we were just as active, holding editorial meetings with The New York Times, National Public Radio, The Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Tampa Bay Times, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Francisco Chronicle, The Miami Herald and several others.

Reporting of our work appeared in Time Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg News, Politico, The Hill, Defense News, Fox Business, The Fiscal Times, The Huffington Post and regional papers across the country. For the first time, we also received coverage in Spanish-language outlets including Univision and Agencia EFE. VOP President Steven Kull did two-dozen radio interviews on stations all across the country, including a post-election hour with former GOP Chairman Michael Steele on SiriusXM Radio’s “P.O.T.U.S. Show.”

At press time, our Facebook followers number at 2,085, an increase of 74 percent over the year. On Twitter, we went from 331 followers to 1,036 – a robust 213 percent rate of growth. And speaking of social media, we also created our first findings-based short video this year, “How ‘We the People’ Can Help Save Social Security” which has been shared on various platforms.

As we wave goodbye to 2016, we are very grateful for the encouragement and support of our friends in the public at large. We appreciate hearing from you about concerns you have on how our government serves the people. Your generous financial donations and your continued interest in our work is gratifying and appreciated.

Our sincere thanks for your help in a successful year of giving Americans a more effective voice in government. We look forward to ever greater successes in the year to come!

Our statement on the passing of advisory board member Thomas Schelling:

“The news of the passing of Thomas Schelling greatly saddens us,” said Voice Of the People President Steven Kull. “It is difficult to overstate his stature as a scholar or his significance in international affairs. Our nation was fortunate to have his guidance as we were to having him as an advisor and a friend.”

Representative Sam Johnson (R-Texas), chair of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, has put forward a bill with a set of reforms to Social Security that the Social Security actuaries say will cover the program’s long term shortfall. However, while there is some overlap, the mix of reforms it proposes is at odds with the mix proposed by a representative sample of voters in a recent in-depth survey conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC).

In Johnson’s proposed Social Security Reform Act of 2016 (H.R. 6489), nearly all reforms involved substantial benefit cuts, with no increases in revenue. However, large majorities of voters, Republicans as well as Democrats, favored more modest benefit cuts and a greater emphasis on revenue increases.

Retirement Age: Johnson’s bill would raise the full retirement age to 69. In the survey, 79 percent of survey respondents (81 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Democrats) approve of raising the full retirement age gradually to 68, but majorities reject raising it beyond 68.

Reducing Benefit Payments: The bill would reduce benefit payments for the upper 50 percent of earners. Seventy-six percent of voters approve of reducing benefits for the top 25 percent of lifetime earners (favored by 72 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of Democrats). However, a majority reject going any further by reducing benefits for the top 40 percent; only 13 percent want to reduce them for the top 50 percent.

COLA: The proposal would use “chained CPI,” a method of recalculating the cost-of-living (COLA) adjustment, which tends to reduce benefits over time. Only a third of the public approve of using chained CPI.

Raising Cap on Taxable Income: Johnson’s plan does not include this, or any step that would raise revenue. However, the voters’ most popular option in addressing the projected shortfall is to raise the cap on income subject to the payroll tax, taking it up to $215K. It has 88 percent support nationally, including 84 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats. A majority (59 percent) wants to eliminate the cap altogether, including 54 percent of Republicans.

Payroll Tax: The proposal makes no changes to the payroll tax. However, 76 percent of respondents would raise the payroll tax from 6.2 to 6.6 percent (72 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats). Majorities did not favor larger increases.

Minimum benefit: The bill also proposes an increase to the minimum benefit. Nearly six-in-ten support increasing the minimum Social Security benefit (nationally 58 percent, including 49 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of Democrats).

“While Americans agree with Congressman Johnson’s effort to address the Social Security shortfall, his mix of reforms is at odds with the solution they favor,” said PPC Director Steven Kull.

Unlike a standard poll, Citizen Cabinet surveys take respondents through an online process called a ‘policymaking simulation’ that seeks to put them in the shoes of a policymaker, giving them essential information and presenting key arguments on both sides of each issue. The content of the simulation was vetted for accuracy and balance by Republican and Democratic congressional staffers, as well as experts from the National Academy of Social Insurance and the American Enterprise Institute.

Once the survey results are released, a public version of the policymaking simulation is posted at vop.org for anyone to try. Citizens are encouraged to go through the simulation and then share their recommendations with their congressional representatives at: http://research.cfrinc.net/vop16159pub/

The Citizen Cabinet panel of 8,697 respondents was primarily drawn from Nielsen-Scarborough’s probability-based national panel (which was recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households). Additional recruiting by telephone and mail was conducted by Communication for Research, the University of Virginia Survey Research Center and the University of Oklahoma’s Public Opinion Learning Laboratory. The margin of error is +/- 1.4 percent. State samples: Calif. 566 (MoE +/- 4.1 percent); Fla. 657 (+/- 3.8 percent); Md. 535 (+/- 4.2 percent); N.Y. 594 (+/- 4 percent); Ohio 434 (+/- 4.7 percent); Okla. 506 (+/- 4.4 percent); Texas 519 (+/- 4.3 percent); and Va. 525 (+/- 4.2 percent).

The report can be found at: http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/SS_2016_Report.pdf

The full questionnaire can be found at: http://www.publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/SS2016_Quaire.pdf

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