The Balance the Budget Game

Want to have a little fun?  Try balancing the federal budget in ten minutes or less.

Believe it or not, you can actually do this on an interactive web site created by the New York Times (link). There are two graphics at the top of the page: one is the projected shortfall in 2015 (a scary $418 billion), and the other is a more long-term (and scarier) projected deficit in 2030 ($1.345 trillion).  

To reduce those numbers, you make hard choices.  You can cut foreign aid in half, eliminate all farm subsidies, cut the pay of civilian federal workers by 5 percent, and reduce the federal workforce by 10 percent.  Then you can choose to reduce the military, trim healthcare and prune entitlements – namely Medicare and Social Security. Finally you have a number of options for increasing taxes and eliminating loopholes.

Each box you check makes a cut or raises a tax. The cool part is that you can see how much progress you’re making on the overall budget deficit in 2015 and 2030 with each click.  The choices are not easy ones, and you quickly discover that the “fixes” most often debated on both sides of the aisle in Congress won’t make much of a dent.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a button you can push to make these deficit reduction provisions actually happen.  But having an easy, interactive tool like this will undoubtedly help raise awareness among the people who don’t deal with these budget issues on a daily basis. You’ll probably remember this little game the next time you hear a politician talking tough about eliminating debt in Washington.