How everyday Americans would tackle the budget deficit

Calculating one's budget

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner goes before the Senate Banking Committee today to talk about the president's 2012 budget proposal. Maybe politicians would do better to leave the budget up to more average folk. Because when presented with the budget in some detail, most respondents of a University of Maryland study were able to reduce the deficit.

Researcher Steven Kull heads up Maryland's Program for Public Consultation. Thanks for being with us.

STEVE KULL: My pleasure.

CHIOTAKIS: You asked everyday people to solve the budget deficit, which isn't an easy task. What did you find?

KULL: It was really quite extraordinary. We presented a representative sample of Americans -- about 800 Americans -- the federal budget broken down into 31 areas and said, you can increase or decrease it as you see fit. And they were able to substantially cut the spending levels by about $146 billion. We also went through revenues, income taxes, corporate taxes, and they did actually increase revenues by, on average, $292 billion. So they did make a substantial dent in the budget deficit.

CHIOTAKIS: Give us specifics. You mentioned some taxes went up and a lot of spending went down. What kind of solutions did people come up with?

KULL: Well the biggest cut that they made was to defense spending, which they cut just over $100 billion. They also cut intelligence, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They cut federal highways, they cut the space program, they cut veterans' benefits. Those were the biggest areas of cuts. They actually increased a few areas, too: job training, the environment, education.

CHIOTAKIS: What about politics? Any deference toward politics in this?

KULL: It's not really what you'd expect. The Independents did the best -- they made the biggest cuts and they made the biggest increases. That was followed by the Democrats. And the Republicans had the least cuts in spending and the least increases in taxes.

CHIOTAKIS: Why is it so tough for people in Washington to do this, to make this work?

KULL: Within Washington, there's such a battle between all these forces. But if you give the average American time to just sit down, say OK, here's the problem, people can think in a holistic way. And they don't just think in terms of their own interests. They really were thinking about what's really necessary for the country as a whole.

CHIOTAKIS: Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland. Thank you.

KULL: You're welcome.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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