GREENPORT — Twin County residents acted as members of Congress on Tuesday when they tried to balance the federal budget as part of an exercise hosted in part by U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19.
About 30 residents attended the exercise held at the Professional Academic Center at Columbia-Greene Community College. The exercise was co-hosted by the Concord Coalition — a nonpartisan group that focuses on national debt.
The national debt is $22 trillion — the largest in the nation’s history — and the U.S. is adding to the deficit at a rate of $1 trillion each year, Delgado said.
In 2018, Congress passed a $4.4 trillion budget, but the revenue raised was about $3.4 trillion, leading to a trillion-dollar deficit, the congressman said.
“You can’t pay your debt down if you don’t have revenue,” Delgado said. “And what we did from my vantage point that was disturbing is we cut our revenue source. The vast majority of those cuts benefited individuals who didn’t need any help. That sort of handcuffed our capacity to spend smart, but more importantly, raise revenue for the purpose of spending smart.”
The participants split into five groups and were assigned to reduce the deficit while funding the federal government for 10 years.
Concord Coalition National Field Director Phil Smith asked participants to take principles, priorities and politics into account.
“As much as we try to de-politicize this [the federal budget[, there is probably not a more political document in the world,” he said. “Will you be re-elected after you put this federal budget together?”
Some policies would reduce spending and raise revenues while others would add spending and others lower taxes, which would increase deficits. The challenge was to muster a majority out of each group, Smith said.
Meanwhile, Delgado set out to learn what matters most to his constituents in Columbia and Greene counties.
At the end of the exercise, different groups had different budget priorities. Almost all groups said they did not think they would get re-elected based on their proposed budgets, but all made attempts to reduce the deficit.
Greene County Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill — an outspoken critic of wasteful government spending at all levels — presented a federal budget that reduced the deficit by $2.87 trillion over 10 years and included reductions in line items for homeland security and health care.
Of his budget proposal securing his re-election, the Catskill lawmaker replied, “Probably not.”
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