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Crunching the numbers

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) is looking to constituents for answers when it comes to the federal government’s budget deficit.

“There are no easy choices to be made here,” Foster said Monday at Calvary Church in Naperville, before putting about 50 people through a 90-minute workshop on which items should have priority in the federal budget.

Fostered partnered with the The Concord Coalition, a non-partisan group based in Arlington, Va., that works to educate citizens about the budgeting process and the perils of an out-of-control deficit.

Concord’s Midwest Region Director, Sara Imhof, minced no words when describing the state of the nation’s debt, providing numbers showing that the debt was scheduled to skyrocket in the years after 2020, and stressing that the problem was a structural one that couldn’t be only fixed by eliminating fraud, more borrowing or greater economic growth.

“It’s very important that we start thinking long-term about our debt,” she said.

Imhof said that factors driving the debt include long-term problems, such as an aging population with increased health care costs, interest on current debt and short-term factors, such as spending on various government programs.

Foster said that although budget sequestration had an impact in bringing the yearly deficit down in the short-term, it had negative effects, such as short-changing the Head Start program, stunting job creation and decreasing federal money available for research.

Foster called for greater cooperation between the two political parties.

“Congress has to do a better job of working together,” he said.

Foster said that entitlement spending, and the amount of revenue raised by the government, are the key items that will determine the nation’s future debt. He said there was broad agreement on the need for some sort of tax reform.

Imhof agreed with Foster’s assessment of entitlements, saying “that’s why Social Security is a big deal.”

The workshop provided participants a range of options on 39 different budget decisions, including general spending (everything except entitlements), defense and homeland security, health care and Social Security, cutting taxes or raising revenues.

Each category was given a figure that could either raise or cut the deficit over a 10-year period and each table voted on what to cut or increase.

Foster said that a reduction of $2 trillion over a 10-year period would be needed to get the nation’s debt under control.

At the end, results from various groups included slashing the deficit by only $60 billion to one table of budget hawks that found $5.1 trillion to slash, focusing heavily on defense and homeland security.

Many said that the toughest decisions for them involved health care and Social Security policy, and several expressed general distrust in government as a problem.

When another woman said that Foster needed to include more young people in the budget workshops, Foster pointed out that he had a similar event at Joliet Junior College the same morning, but conceded the problem.

“It’s a problem getting young kids interested in government at all,” he said.

On one point, there seemed to be general agreement.

When Foster asked if anyone was in favor of a proposed 25 cent per gallon increase on gas taxes, not one hand went up.

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