Short take: Balance federal books yourself

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2011 - 8:05 PM

Photo: Rita Reed, Star Tribune

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Armchair politicians, here's your chance.

Instead of griping about elected representatives who are floundering at balancing the federal budget, go online to take a whack at it yourself on the New York Times budget simulator.

There are lot of simulators out there, but the Times offers one of the best. It instructs users to make choices that close the federal budget shortfalls short-term (2015) and long-term (2030).

Best of all: it keeps a running percentage tally of users' preference for spending cuts vs. tax revenue.

Among the choices to consider: cutting foreign aid, cutting the federal workforce, eliminating the mortgage tax deduction, reducing troop strength in Afghanistan, and raising Social Security and Medicare eligibility age to 70.

The process takes about 20 minutes. One of the takeaway lessons: Balancing the budget is doable. And it takes more than just cuts to earmarks or foreign aid to rein in spending.

The simulator also has users pondering their choices hours later. That foreign aid cut seemed easy at the time, but was it such a good idea? Would it destabilize areas of the world vital to U.S. strategic interests?

And that Social Security and Medicare eligibility age ... raising it saves a lot of money, but is it realistic to expect people to work until they're 70? Do I want to work until I'm 70?

That pondering had me go back and redo my choices. I still favored spending cuts over tax revenue.

But the second time around, the proportion was much closer to 50-50 than it was the first time.

To try out the simulator, go to www.startribune.com/a313.

Jill Burcum is a Star Tribune editorial writer.

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