There's something eerie about writing about the federal budget for the Ides of March, considering all the political backstabbing going on right now. But there are good things happening in regard to the federal budget, too.
Not only has Rep. Paul Ryan produced the House Republicans' budget — see Page 31 for Rep. Todd Rokita's plan to turn Medicaid into a block grant so Indiana Gov. Mike Pence could expand the Healthy Indiana Plan instead of Medicaid — but Senate Democrats also are working on their own budget for the first time in several years.
Citizens are weighing in on federal spending, too.
Could Congress accomplish in a few months what some of Rep. Pete Visclosky's constituents did in two hours Monday? They made decisions that would have not only balanced the budget but also reduced the federal debt.
Visclosky and the bipartisan Concord Coalition hosted a group budget exercise in which residents acted like a congress and voted on options evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office. Visclosky didn't offer his views; he was there to listen.
He got an earful.
There were pointed discussions on military spending and on the social safety net.
Discussing nuclear weapons, one woman said, "Spending money to kill each other a thousand times over is crazy."
Defense spending came into focus when one man said, "I don't mind spending money on defense when it's within our own borders." That meant not spending $18 billion on things like a new squadron of maritime prepositioning ships.
One of the small groups came up with $3.192 trillion in savings over 10 years just by cutting spending. They were dismayed to realize they hadn't eliminated the national debt in their 10-year plan. (A deficit is a one-year shortfall; the federal debt is an accumulation of deficits).
That group explained it favored pushing some responsibilities, like health care, onto the states.
So where do the states come up with the money to meet those needs, I asked them afterward. I didn't get an answer on that, but I did get an explanation of their philosophy.
"There's less hands to stick to it before it comes back" when money goes to a state agency rather than a federal agency, one man explained.
That's a trust issue, but budgets are based on values, after all.
I went though the options afterward and would have cut the deficit by just less than $5 trillion, but it's easier for one person to do this than the 535 in Congress.
Phil Smith, southern regional director of the Concord Coalition, who oversaw Monday's event, likes asking the public for input. "In fact, the solution might very well come from Indiana tonight," he said.
What's your advice? Please write a letter to the editor with your solution.