Can You Break Through Federal Budget Gridlock?
Washington, DC – Today the Bipartisan Policy Center in collaboration with Balancing Act by Polco launched an updated version of the Federal Balancing Act budget simulation tool that lets the public try their hand at creating a budget to break through Washington’s recurring gridlock over our nation’s fiscal challenges.
Found at FederalBalancingAct.com, the free interactive online tool shows the long-term impacts of today’s policy choices. Simulation users can increase or decrease federal spending and revenue across several budget categories—from veterans’ benefits to taxes on corporate profits—to see both the immediate budget impact and the projected impact 25 years out. With additional information offered throughout, the simulation builds understanding and promotes constructive conversations on federal spending.
“The federal budget simulator gets to the heart of our country’s fiscal health by showing participants the tough choices policymakers face, and that we didn’t accumulate a $31 trillion-dollar debt overnight,” said Rachel Snyderman, senior associate director of economic policy at BPC. “The simulation helps frame a fact-based conversation about the impact of compounding debt or savings across several decades, and the power that voters have to elevate their voice and bring actionable ideas to their elected leaders.”
Testing Tough Tradeoffs
Federal Balancing Act begins with a breakdown of the Congressional Budget Office’s outlook for the current fiscal year, which projects a federal budget deficit of $1.5 trillion in 2023. Through interactive categories, participants can explore how the government raises revenue through taxes and how it allocates funding across various programs, including health care, Social Security, defense, and many others. Users can also see the potential impact of changes to policies including:
- Addressing the costs of entitlement programs like Medicare;
- Raising Social Security’s full retirement age;
- Changing income tax rates; and,
- Creating a wealth tax.
As users alter spending and revenue across various categories, a balance bar adjusts toward or away from a balanced budget. There is also a long-term outlook indicator showing progress toward a sustainable budget—one that could continue its expected trajectory without harming the economy. To boost contextual understanding of how the federal government works, participants can select “more information” throughout the simulation to learn more about each program. They are also encouraged to provide input when they submit their budget.
“People want to understand the process for collecting and spending their federal tax dollars, and increasingly, they want to participate in the decision-making process,” said Chris Adams, president of Balancing Act. “Simulation-based public engagement tools such as Federal Balancing Act gather important input from the public that can help policymakers better align their decision-making with the needs of the country.”
Strong Student Participation
Federal Balancing Act provides unique benefits when used as a teaching tool for high school and college students. Since 2020, Federal Balancing Act has attracted 540,000 users—80% of whom are under age 28.
“As digital natives, our young residents are comfortable with online tools to gather input, which is why Federal Balancing Act is popular in classrooms where teachers and students are studying the federal government and fiscal policy,” Adams said.
High school and college educators use Federal Balancing Act to help students build analytical skills, develop persuasive arguments, discuss the role of government, examine government resources and adapt the federal budget to align with their priorities.
“The federal simulation tool gives us the opportunity to look at real dollars when studying fiscal policy in macroeconomics,” said Brian Williams, a social studies teacher at Grand Haven High School in Grand Haven, MI. “Our students complete a project where adjustments—should they choose to make them—are made with real numbers, thanks to this site. In government, as we talk about the presidential elections and budget and/or tax priorities, we can look at party ideological decisions as they relate to our two major parties’ economic proposals.”
In comments submitted to the simulation, students describe balancing the federal budget as “complex,” “complicated,” and “very hard.” Some students gain empathy for the challenges policymakers face when making budget decisions. “Budgeting was harder than I thought it was going to be,” said a Pennsylvania high school student. “I learned that sometimes you have to make sacrifices in order to have a better future.” Students also express a greater understanding of how funding for programs is prioritized. “A vast majority of our money is going into health care and social security,” said a California university student, “when only a very small fraction is going into education and climate change, which are the future of our world.”
BPC and Balancing Act plan to report regularly on what is learned about public preferences from the simulator. For more information, visit Federal Balancing Act.