Nearly 40 people worked toward finding solutions to the national deficit and federal budget issues during a workshop hosted by Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, at Carl Sandburg College Tuesday.
Bustos hosted the interactive budget workshop in partnership with the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan and nonprofit group that focuses on federal fiscal policy and educating the public about the different causes and consequences of federal budget decisions.
During the workshop, participants formed small groups of three to five people and worked toward creating a balanced budget while creating a dialogue about what each group’s priorities for the budget were. Budget policy options provided at the workshop have all been scored by the Congressional Budget Office for their fiscal impact on the debt or the deficit.
Bustos said after the workshop wraps up, she will take each group’s budget plans and notes and use that information when she makes voting decisions in the Capitol.
“Everyone’s going to leave behind their workbooks and we will tally what people in the heart of our district think about education, health, social security, medicare and defense,” Bustos said. “We will see what the local flavor is on those issues and just like any time I come home I listen to people and take back those thoughts and it helps me decide how I’m going to vote.”
The interactive budget workshop came at a time when lawmakers were in the midst of passing a bipartisan two-year budget that would help avoid another government shutdown.
“What the budget that we passed does is it reduces the amount of sequestration, which has been harmful to our area, when our largest employer is the Rock Island Arsenal, it took a hit during sequestration and this eases that hurt a little bit,” Bustos said. “At the same time, it still helps address the long-term deficit and so those are kind of the pros and cons of this.”
Awaiting a Senate vote, the budget passed an initial vote of 67 to 33 and set discretionary spending at $1.012 trillion for 2014 and $1.014 trillion for 2015. The budget would increase government deficits in 2014 and 2015 but would reduce deficits over 10 years by $23 billion.
According to reports by the Associated Press, the budget would also ease sequester spending cuts by $63 billion over two years, which would be split between defense and domestic programs. For the current fiscal year, the defense budget would be set at $520.5 billion and domestic programs would be set at $491.8 billion.
Among the groups, the Affordable Health Care Act and the nation’s farm bill garnered lengthy discussions, in addition to how to handle defense and Social Security spending.
Knox County Board member Pam Davidson, D-District 3, said she was invited by Bustos to attend the interactive budget workshop. Davidson said her group was especially diverse and included people whose beliefs landed from all across the political spectrum.
“It just shows how people of different backgrounds can work together,” she said. “I mean, we did not agree on everything, but we listened and we discussed and got input from all.”
Davidson said that while some topics, such as the Affordable Care Act, were not surprising in that they reaped a vibrant discussion within the group, nearly every topic followed suit. She said the discussion also shifted as to how different budget decisions would affect Galesburg.
“I think this is a great thing to have because it starts getting people thinking about other things and get people more information,” Davidson said. “They get more in-depth on what truly is happening, and more education is power.”
In her closing remarks, Bustos said budget solutions could be reached by people from different political backgrounds in a practical way.
“If we can do it here in Galesburg and have civil conversations where we have a lot of different sides of politics in this room,” Bustos said. “That’s the real world — we have hard decisions to make, but we can do it in a reasonable way.”
Dani Kinnison: (309) 343-7181, ext. 214; firstname.lastname@example.org; @drkinnison