At our national conference on fiscal stewardship on Capitol Hill yesterday, the Concord Coalition released a report containing the recommendations of its nationwide “fiscal advisory councils.” The report is impressive, not so much for its length and the number and variety of policy recommendations (you can certainly find even more pages and more policies in the CBO’s “budget options” volumes), but rather because it represents the culmination of a “mini political process” of sorts, where diverse groups of people came together to learn, discuss, and debate the various tough choices necessary to achieve fiscal sustainability, and yet ultimately came to consensus about some general principles and some specific policies.
As Concord’s press release explains:
Hoping to protect their children and grandchildren from a dismal economic future, concerned citizens across the country are prepared to make the difficult choices necessary to put government finances on a more responsible path.
This becomes clear in a report released today by The Concord Coalition on the first year of its Fiscal Stewardship Project. Supported by a grant from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the project established six advisory councils around the country to study the long-term fiscal and economic challenges facing the United States and to recommend possible solutions.
The fiscal advisory councils were formed in Atlanta, Iowa, Milwaukee, Northern California, Northern Virginia and Philadelphia. In addition, a special student engagement project was conducted in Denver.
“Politicians may be surprised at how emphatic ordinary citizens are about fiscal responsibility and what solutions they are prepared to consider once they have studied the issues,” said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition. “The work of the fiscal advisory councils should demonstrate to elected officials that their constituents are ready and willing to help make the hard choices that good fiscal stewardship requires now and for future generations.”
Concord’s report includes an overview followed by individual reports from each of the advisory councils that present their findings and recommendations on everything from new taxes to reductions in entitlement benefits.
While each fiscal advisory council approached its work differently, eight central themes emerged:
- Disappointment and frustration with Washington
- A preference for broad, sweeping reforms rather than piecemeal efforts
- A sense of urgency
- The essential need for improvements in the health care system
- A willingness to consider significant changes in Social Security
- Deep concern for future generations
- The need to better educate the public
- Commitments to future action
“Advisory council members across the country are disappointed that Washington has failed to exercise greater responsibility in handling the nation’s finances,” the project overview says. “They decried a long and continuing pattern of elected and appointed federal officials failing to set meaningful budget priorities, borrowing more than was necessary, and refusing to pursue obviously needed reforms in both the public and private sectors.”
In other words, Concord’s fiscal stewardship project and the great work and dedication of its fiscal advisory councils are intended to inspire fiscally responsible behavior by modeling good behavior. It’s a totally different strategy from, say, participating in tea-party protests or otherwise opposing specific policies that threaten the generosity of one’s own government benefits.
CNN-Money.com’s Jeanne Sahadi covered yesterday’s event and wrote this story, pointing out that:
Unlike politicians, [Concord's fiscal advisory] councils were able to deliberate without worrying about getting re-elected. They were outside the partisan cauldron that contorts the statements of even the most level-headed politician.
The councils were not unanimous in their suggestions. But there were some commonalities. Chief among them: disappointment with Washington, and in particular, politicians’ use of budget tricks to disguise the true cost of legislation. The Milwaukee council didn’t mince words, referring to “an overarching failure in the management of the nation’s business.”
The councils prefer sweeping reform to half-measures.
“We must examine the policy goals of all taxes and expenditures, change entitlement programs, cut all federal expenses that do not meet our goals and, if necessary, raise taxes,” the Northern California council concluded.
And when it comes to facing up to fiscal challenges, they would like lawmakers to make it snappy. “The sooner policymakers get working on solutions, the better,” the Philadelphia council wrote…
The Atlanta council put it this way: “If Americans don’t make the hard decisions now, it will have a devastating impact on the quality of life for our children and grandchildren.”
And Jeanne shot some video interviews of a few of the advisory council members, which I’ll be sure to share with you here once they’re up on CNN.com later this week. You’ll be impressed. Our advisory council members meet with their respective members of Congress today (as I write!), and I hope the politicians will be impressed (and impressionable), too.