AmericaSpeaks – a national discussion on our budget priorities

Contributed by Shell Suber

Today, I attended AmericaSpeaks – a national simul-cast townhall meeting to discuss America’s budget priorities – as an observer from The Felkel Group. I was also asked by AmericaSpeaks to report on the meeting for Carolina Soapbox which served as the official blogger of the Columbia meeting.

Below is the official “preliminary report” with the top line numbers and results of the meetings, including numbers of participants and budget solutions they preferred. Therefore, I won’t go into those details. Rather, I will simply list a few of my observations from the floor of the Columbia Convention Center and you can read the official report below.

First, it must be said that this event was a marvel of modern communications technology. Utilizing high-speed broadband internet, satellite hookups and big view screens, participants were made to feel as if they were in a single townhall meeting, despite the fact they were spread out over the country. Blogs like Carolina Soapbox were joined around the country on Twitter and Facebook by AmericaSpeaks staffers during the discussions. The importance of the subject matter notwithstanding, it was hard not to be distracted by the whole gee-wiz-ness of a simultaneous discussion taking place in 33 US cities.

I spotted several familiar faces among the nearly 400 in attendance:

  • Frank Knapp – SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce
  • George Shissias
  • Steven Benjamin – Mayor-Elect of Columbia SC
  • Hagood Tighe
  • Brett Bursey – SC Labor Party candidate for SC House
  • Hal Stevenson
  • Butch Wallace – Office of Cong. Joe Wilson
  • Joseph Azar
  • David James – SC Taxpayers Association
  • Karen Blackmon
  • Lindsey Graham – US Senator
  • Keely Saye
  • John Spratt – US Congressman
  • Linell Strandine
  • Eric Davis – Richland County Republican Party Chairman
  • Lauren FitzHugh
  • David Adams – Richland County Treasurer

*****

For Immediate Release:

June 26, 2010

Press Contact: Teresa Valerio Parrot, 303-669-8945, teresa.parrot@widmeyer.com

AMERICANS COME TOGETHER TO SEND STRONG MESSAGE TO CONGRESS ABOUT FISCAL FUTURE:

“We are prepared to make tough choices, we expect congress to also do so.”

Support for Increased Taxes Paired with Moderate Reductions in Spending

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Thousands of Americans across 60 cities participated in a national discussion today on America’s fiscal future. Reflecting the nation’s rich diversity, approximately 3,500 participants sent a strong message to leaders about the importance of action to strengthen the nation’s economy in the short-run and their willingness to make tough choices to address growing deficits over the long-term.

Reforms that were preferred by participants at the National Town Meeting included options that:

• Raise the limit on taxable earnings so it covers 90% of total earnings.

• Reduce spending on health care and non-defense discretionary spending by at least 5%.

• Raise tax rates on corporate income and those earning more than $1 million.

• Raise the age for receiving full Social Security benefits to 69.

• Reduce defense spending by 10% – 15%.

• Create a carbon and securities-transaction tax.

Using keypad polling devices and networked computers, participants identified and prioritized the messages that they were interested in sending to Congressional leaders and the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

The nonpartisan discussion, called AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our Economy, originated in Philadelphia and linked 19 meeting sites across the country. Small group discussions were held throughout the day and keypad polling was conducted to identify shared values and priorities. The sites were connected via satellite so that the participants could see and hear fellow Americans across the country.

In addition to Philadelphia, other sites included Albuquerque, NM; Augusta, ME;  Casper, WY; Chicago, IL; Columbia, SC; Dallas, TX; Des Moines, IA; Detroit, MI; Grand Forks, ND; Jackson, MS, Overland Park, KS; Pasadena, CA; Louisville, KY; Missoula, MT; Portland, OR; Portsmouth, NH; Richmond, VA; and Silicon Valley, CA. Volunteers convened more than 40 conversations in other communities across the country. AmericaSpeaks Founder and President, Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, led the discussion in Philadelphia.

Current and former members of Congress participated either in person or via video and included Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), former Senator and cochair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force Pete Domenici (R-NM), Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Representative John Spratt (R-SC). Senators Conrad and Gregg serve on the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Dr. Alice Rivlin, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, President’s fiscal commission member and co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, was also in attendance.

Sixty-one percent of participants said that in the short-term they believe the government should be doing more to strengthen the economy. Participants expressed more mixed views about the recent stimulus bill that failed to pass the Senate last week. Fifty-one percent of participants supported the legislation, while thirty-eight percent of participants said they were not supportive of it. The concerns about the state of the economy spanned unemployment and the need for more jobs, personal and federal debt and deficit, the slow pace of economic recovery, too much spending and government involvement, the increasing gap between the rich and poor, lack of support for small businesses and distrust of elected officials to fix what is broken fiscally.

The participants prioritized balancing the needs of current and future generations and placing a greater burden for reducing the deficit on those who are more financially able as the core values that should guide our country’s fiscal future. Americans were split when rating whether the government should hold primary reasonability for those most vulnerable or individuals should be responsible for taking care of themselves. Social Security, including preserving benefits for all Americans served as the spending option most participants agreed must be preserved when balancing the budget.

“At a time when many are focused on things that divide us as a nation, it is refreshing to have so many Americans come together to find common ground on long-term fiscal choices and inform the efforts of our national policymakers,” stated Dr. Lukensmeyer. “‘We The People’ have prioritized what is most important for America’s future: creating equality of opportunity for future generations, maintaining a free country where individuals can maximize their potential, guaranteeing children receive a quality education, securing prosperity for future generations and ensuring a stable economic environment.”

Specific messages participants asked to have sent to Congress and the President’s Commission to address our fiscal challenges included:

• Please find the political will to use this input as if it were coming from a powerful lobbying group–because we are.

• Abandon the failed politics of partisanship. You can’t demonize each other and expect us to trust you.

Dr. Lukensmeyer will present the findings from today’s discussion to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform on June 30th in Washington, DC. The presentation will be followed by briefings with Congressional leaders over the coming weeks.

The National Town Meeting was hosted by the nonprofit, nonpartisan AmericaSpeaks, which accesses the collective wisdom of the American people on local, regional and national decision-making on the most challenging public issues of the day.

AmericaSpeaks: One Budget, One Economy was made possible by support from a diverse group of private foundations, including the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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4 Comments to “AmericaSpeaks – a national discussion on our budget priorities”

  1. Raising taxes is NEVER the answer.
    Carbon taxes are based on junk science and fraud.

  2. Paul – I didn’t sit at any of the table discussions but I suspect I would have argued against a tax increase on energy. That being said, you would have to cut spending and services more than most Americans would permit to close the $1.2T budget gap without raising some taxes. I thought this exercise was useful in that it simply asked each person to say – and defend – exactly what they would do and how they would do it, line by line. I think most people who think like we do found it considerably more difficult than they thought it would be.

  3. Anything that involves raising taxes is wrong. At this point, it is the same thing as telling a crack addict that you are going to give him one extra rock a day, but he needs to reduce his use of his personal stock of rocks. “In just a few days you’ll be cured.”. The government is going to have to realize one day they will HAVE to cut services. The longer they wait the more traumatic it will be.

  4. As Marcellus speaks:
    “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”Follow the money behind the event! Weu can not tax our way out of this. the only way to attack this is by tackleing entitlements,

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