Northwest suburban residents take aim at federal debt
U.S. Rep. Robert Dold, R-10th, leads a discussion Aug. 27 about the causes and long-term consequences of the nation's debt. Dold and the Concord Coalition hosted the Federal Budget Forum at the College of Lake County. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 28, 2012 9:09PM
VERNON HILLS — A group of 75 residents from the northwest suburbs took aim Monday night at the nation’s mountain of federal debt.
In just two hours, the group found ways to cut $6.2 trillion from the federal government’s annual operating budget. The bulk of the savings stem targeted Medicare, highways, public schools and the military budgets.
“We have a lot of room to reduce our deficit over the next 10 years,” said Sara Imhof, who organized the suburban budget workshop at the College of Lake County’s Vernon Hills campus.
Imhof, the regional director of the Concord Coalition, a Virginia-based think tank that focuses on federal overspending, divided the audience into small groups and tasked each with looking through a list of pre-selected options for raising taxes and cutting expenses.
She challenged each to consider what costs could come with each dollar re-allocated.
“Every choice we make impacts someone,” she told the group before they split into their teams. “We need to think about who is losing or winning from this choice, and what does that mean for us.”
U.S. Rep. Robert Dold, R-10th, of Kenilworth, attended the session as well. He walked through each of the three work rooms, listening to the budget debates.
Dold and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat, face off in November for the newly redesigned 10th District Congressional seat.
“I hope today’s going to be an eye-opening experience for each of you,” Dold told the audience.
The randomly-paired groups went on to draw varying conclusions about several of the budget issues on Imhof’s list.
In one group, Deerfield High School teacher Steve Svetlik and Staci Allan, a School Board member at Consolidated Community Elementary District 21, lobbied their counterparts away from $55 billion in cuts to subsidies of the agriculture industry.
“Farmers cannot be expected to survive” without the benefits, Svetlik said.
Two tables over, though, Dennis Baker told his group that he had spent years working in the agriculture industry, and that most subsidies go to corporate farms that would still be profitable without them. His group axed the benefits with a 5-to-1 vote.
Some groups demanded additional spending cuts.
“To me, to give people something if they don’t pay for it is a problem,” Howard Koster told his partners. “Why should I subsidize their health care? Take that law off the books.”
Other groups determined that revenues needed to be increased, including Rand Haas’ crew, which generated $453 billion in new federal income by levying a 5.6 percent tax increase on everyone who earns more than $1 million.
“Are we trying to balance the budget here, or make millionaires richer?” he asked his partners. “One percent of the world’s going to hate us.”
At the end of the workshop, each group turned in plans that brought the federal budget at least $1.2 billion back toward even.
Participants took note that those decisions would change entire industries in minutes, but Imhof pointed out that the deficit has become so complicated that change will require straightforward suggestions.
“We don’t have a very good outlook, unless we start to make some hard decisions,” she concluded.