In Toronto yesterday the 19 big-economy nations that make up the G-20 (yes, there are only 19 countries) agreed that each should try to cut their deficits in half by 2013. The day before 19 U.S. city gatherings (yes, really there were 19) brought about 3500 people together in a national discussion called “America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy”.
Our goal Saturday was also to cut the U.S. projected deficit in half. But our timeline was 2025. To do this we were given resource documents about what makes up the federal budget and spending/revenue options we could collectively support to achieve our $1.2 trillion goal.
G-20 folks, you’re probably not going to make the 2013 goal and if your budgets are like the U.S. budget, the deficit will grow even faster after 20103. Very few of our work-tables across the country could achieve our goal and we didn’t have a gazillion lobbyists working us over or trying to buy our votes. My table could only agree on cutting $998 billion.
But we did achieve some strong collective agreements that our Congress should heed.
Our Columbia site had over 700 participants, possibly the largest turnout of any of the other 18 sites, and was organized by the Central Carolina Community Foundation (CCCF). According to JoAnn Turnquist, president and CEO of the CCCF, her organization almost passed on participating.
Internet chatter on both sides of the political spectrum had been speculating that the event was just a front for pushing conservative or progressive views on how to cut the federal deficit by 2025. In spite of the partisanship concerns, CCCF Chairman and prominent local attorney Mike Kelly saw the event as an opportunity to bring the entire community together to discuss an important issue.
Turns out, Mike was right.
Nationally, the demographics of attendees were close to census data on gender, ethnicity and household income but skewed older with far too few Hispanics.
And for the progressives in the country who were concerned that the Tea Party was going to dominate the collective budget recommendations, they either worried for nothing or did a better job of turning out their folks. Only 23% of participants called themselves “moderate”, 33% labeled themselves as right of center and, wait…….44% self-identified as left of center. (There must be a lesson in here for the mid-term elections)
This doesn’t mean that the Tea Baggers didn’t try to infiltrate the event. In Columbia, and I expect across the country, fair tax proponents turned out with literature, instructions on selling their regressive national sales tax and a successful plan on having their faux solution to the deficit at least mentioned in a summary report.
But the discussions were cordial, even congenial. Every table across the country had a mission, agree on budget cuts and increases in revenue within our collectively determined core values (which turned out to be 1-a desire to take care of today’s population while watching out for future generations, 2-placing a greater burden for reducing the deficit on those that have more ability to pay, and 3-government having some responsibility of taking care of the most valuable people.)
So what clear undisputable signals did our national discussion give to our leaders in Washington?
62% still would like to reduce federal health care spending by an additional 5% to 15% on top of projected savings from the new health care law
85% want to raise Social Security’s limit on taxable earnings so it covers 90% of total earnings
85% want to reduce defense spending by 5% to 15%
68% want to create an extra 5% tax for people earning more than $1 million a year
64% want a carbon tax with all revenue going to deficit reduction
61% want a securities transaction tax
One final interesting result from Saturday’s event that is an important message for all the G-20 countries, 61% believed that government should be doing more to strengthen the economy while only 25% thought it should be doing less.