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The federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2013 which ended on September 30 was the smallest since before the recent recession. At $680 billion it has dropped 50 percent from the peak during the recession. Before anyone gets too excited, remember that $680 billion is still 50 percent larger than the largest budget deficit in history before President Obama, the $458 billion deficit for President Bush’s last year. Still, we have moved halfway to a balanced budget in just four years. As another budget deadline approaches in Washington, DC, the questions is: why do we act as if balancing the budget is a difficult feat when it is actually quite simple?
Politicians, even the fiscal conservatives, seem to think that balancing the budget is either impossible or very difficult. The ambitious politicians propose multiyear paths to a balanced budget, taking perhaps six to ten years to reach balance. The reality is balancing the budget is easy.
So easy in fact that he assigned the task to the 15 students who took his “Balancing the Federal Budget in Fifteen Weeks” seminar for college freshmen. (As college freshmen, most would either be Age 18 or 19, so they would qualify as teenagers!)
Balancing the budget in one year from where we are now required the students to propose a few big, controversial changes. In reality, I think these students did an amazing job of reaching their goal with so few controversial items. The students got 12 percent of the savings from revenue increases, 40 percent from discretionary spending cuts, and 56 percent from entitlement reform, so they have some balance to their plan. That sums to over 100 percent because they went beyond their goal of a balanced budget by about $50 billion.
The reality is that balancing the budget is not difficult, unless one is more worried about re-election and from where your next campaign contribution is coming. Fifteen freshmen in fifteen weeks managed to learn about the budget, study various proposals for ways to improve the budget situation, and then chose a set of reforms that would produce a small surplus. People can disagree with their choices, they can make a different proposal, but they should stop acting as if balancing the budget cannot be done.
Their deficit cutting plan combined tax reform (lowering marginal tax rates while eliminating deductions), with major reductions in unnecessary expenditures in the discretionary part of the federal budget and serious reforms for entitlement spending in the “mandatory” part of the federal budget. Read how they did it here.
There is hope for today’s youth!