Dallas Morning News Readers Try the Stabilize the Debt Simulator

Our Stabilize the Debt budget simulator, which allows users to try their hand at deficit reduction, has become an important tool for understanding the magnitude of our fiscal challenges and considering potential solutions. We recently worked with the Dallas Morning News in encouraging its readers to try their hand at our simulator and in analyzing the results of those who voluntarily submitted their choices. The results were quite interesting.

From early August to early September we had 823 separate attempts (from 758 different e-mail addresses) from Dallas Morning News readers using a special link to the simulator. Sixty percent of those respondents were able to reach the Peterson-Pew Commission recommended goal of 60 percent debt-GDP by 2018. Overall, there was broad support for raising the Social Security retirement age (74 percent), less support for raising the eligibility age for Medicare (60 percent) and disagreement on defense cuts and what to do on the revenue side.

Democratic and Republican respondents both favored eliminating earmarks and outdated programs. Democrats were more in favor of some specific weapons cuts such as missile defense systems, while Republicans were in favor of extending most, if not all, of the 2001/2003 tax cuts.

This exercise involves very tough choices. Getting rid of earmarks and outdated programs alone will not solve our fiscal problem. The article summarizing the results of the exercise notes:

One big lesson is that cutting the deficit solely through tax hikes, or solely through spending cuts, makes the task particularly challenging. The better solution may require both.

As CRFB President Maya MacGuineas says in the article, "The less likely people are to support revenue increases, the less likely they are to get to the goal." And with regard to spending, "Don't think about earmarks, think about reforming entitlements. Think about energy taxes and discretionary spending freezes, instead of clinging to the hope that we can all make this magically go away."

The lessons learned from the exercise can be helpful to policymakers who campaigned on reducing the budget deficit. Schools and other groups are using the simulator as a tool for education and conversation. Try it yourself, and get your friends to try it and compare results.