Group takes stab at cutting federal budget
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @CindyWojCain November 4, 2013 5:38PM
Updated: December 6, 2013 6:27AM
JOLIET — About 40 people gathered Monday at Joliet Junior College to take a stab at cutting the federal budget deficit by billions of dollars.
The mock budget workshop was hosted by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-11th, and The Concord Coalition, a nonprofit, non-partisan group designed to help the government with long-range fiscal planning.
Groups sat around six tables and worked together to vote on issues ranging from repealing the Affordable Care Act, a move that would add $124 million to the budget, to increasing the gas tax by 25 cents, which would cut $291 million from the budget.
Most of those in attendance voted to keep the ACA and to raise the gas tax.
“People that want to eliminate the Affordable Care Act are offering no alternatives and they’re saying let’s go back to a failed system,” said Jim Reeb, a retired Caterpillar executive.
Reeb and others also agreed that raising the gas tax would push more people to conserve its use and to buy “greener” cars.
While Courtney Hedderman, associate state director for AARP, at first thought the gas tax idea was bad, especially for rural residents who do not have access to public transportation, she finally was convinced and voted with her group at her table to increase it.
Meanwhile, at another table, Will County Auditor Duffy Blackburn reported that his group had added $900 billion to the budget, but it hadn’t tackled revenue raising options yet, so he had hope that his team’s final number would be in the black.
Some of the toughest choices involved raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 by the year 2027 and raising full retirement age for Social Security from 67 to 70 by the year 2035. The two measures combined would cut $245 billion from the budget.
“It depends on your gene pool,” said H. Ron Hartman, a retired bank examiner, of Tinley Park.
Hedderman, a retired bank examiner, agreed.
“Not everyone can work to age 70,” she said.
Foster said he would review the forms and take back some of the groups’ input as he prepared for his own federal budget votes.
The deficit has shrunk from $1.2 trillion to $642 billion but is still much higher than it should be and costs the country $223 billion alone in interest payments on loans, said Sara Imhof, midwest regional director for the coalition.
She urged the group to consider how hard it is for members of Congress to look through the same list and cut programs or raise taxes. She said U.S. representatives who make tough choices should be rewarded.
Foster, a business owner and scientist, said he would like to take the partisanship out of the budget votes and make members of Congress think more like businessmen than politicians.
As for Monday’s participants, they had a lot of fun taking out their red pens and working on the country’s fiscal choices.
“I enjoyed it more than I thought I would,” Hubbard said. “The politics is the terrible part of it.”
Hedderman said the topics were more complex than she expected.
“It’s an interesting way of informing people on the difficult (budget) pieces being debated now,” she said of the event. “The more information, the better.”
For more information on the coalition and its “Principles and Priorities” budget workshops, visit www.concordcoalition.org.