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" style="float:left; margin: 2px 8px 2px 0 The Alabama Voter 
Summer 2010 Edition
Published July 19, 2010


National Town Meeting on the U.S. Budget


Leonette Slay and Mary Lynn Bates participated in this webinar. Here is Leonette’s report.

On Saturday, 26 June, I participated in a six hour discussion on our national budget with more than 3500 people linked in 19 cities, 40 community conversations, and countless more citizens on line (including Mary Lynn Bates).  The town hall I attended, in Columbia, SC, included 700 other interested Columbia-area citizens and was opened by SEN Lindsey Graham (R, SC).   This remarkable national town meeting was orchestrated by AmericaSpeaks, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group that has been set up to gather American views on political issues.  This group has previously organized town halls on social security reform and recovery of New Orleans. AmericaSpeaks will forward the results to the ranking majority and minority members of the Senate and House budget committees as well as  President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.   Why the focus on the national budget?  Once our economy recovers and the annual budget deficit falls below its current level, the deficit will begin to rise again and reach unsustainable levels, driven primarily by health care costs and an aging population.  If we continue with current policies, the annual deficit will total 7% of our economy in 2020 (as measured by GDP), 9% in 2025, and 22% in 2050.   How did the town hall work?  Participants in 19 cities signed up online or registered on site.  We were divided into 8-10 person tables that were demographically and politically diverse, based on profiles provided upon sign up, with a trained facilitator at each table.  We got  a couple of short video primers on the budget, a workbook of possible options, and a mission:  take the research materials, discuss with our table mates, and balance the federal budget in 2025 by eliminating $1.2 trillion or raising revenues, or a combination of both.  The hard choices made at each table were entered into a computer at that table and the results were immediately reviewed by data analysts.  We also had keypads in which we could vote on a number of issues, including what our core values were and what key messages should be relayed to our national elected leaders.  We saw the consolidated results just seconds later, displayed on screens in each participating city.
Here’s just a sampling of what a majority across the country elected to do to balance our national budget by 2025.  As you can see, citizens were willing to make a number of difficult choices:

  • Raise the retirement age to 69
  • Raise the limit on income that could be taxed for social security
  • Reduce defense spending by 15% (and many wanted to go beyond 15% but that was the highest choice available on the options sheet)
  • Create an extra 5% tax for people earning more than $1 million per year
  • Create taxes for carbon and securities transactions
We used savings estimates generated by the Congressional Budget Office to determine what combination of cuts and increased revenues would get our national budget into balance.   Here are other options that participants wanted on the table that were not part of our written options sheet:
  • Remove the limit on earnings subject to social security payroll tax
  • Reform the tax code by moving to a flat tax
  • Adopt a single-payer system for health care
    As one participant at a nearby table remarked, “If we had House and Senate members half as reasonable as the people around this table, we’d be a lot better off.”
    For complete results from the town hall, to include messages to elected leaders, go to

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