If Millennials Ruled ... the Budget
John Boehner (R-OH) has said it. Alan Simpson, the co-chairman of President Obama’s Fiscal Responsibility Commission has said it too: our ballooning debt is stealing from our grandchildren. We need a responsible federal budget in order to preserve our nation for our grandchildren. We have to make sacrifices now, for the sake of our children and grandchildren’s future.
Now, those "grandchildren" are weighing in themselves.
On May 25, the progressive student policy organization the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network released its Budget for Millennial America, a rigorous and concrete federal budget plan that lowers the deficit while making investments in the areas that thousands of Millennials (young people ages 18 to 24) identified as priorities.
"The implications of this debate rest on the shoulders of our generation by and large, so it’s important to have a generational voice in this debate," says Hilary Doe, national director of the Network.
"We want to help design the future we're going to inherit," she says.
The Budget was released along with five other budget alternatives as part of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2011 Fiscal Summit: Solutions for America's Future, which challenged six organizations from across the political spectrum to develop sound long-term fiscal policy to "resolve these problems for a generation or more."
The other plans come from more traditional economic think tanks—the American Enterprise Institute, the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Center for American Progress, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. Each group received a $200,000 grant from the Peterson Foundation to design the plans.
To enable comparisons, the budgets use as a common starting point the long-term projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and each was analyzed and scored by the CBO, the Tax Policy Center and Barry Anderson.
The Millennial Budget—to date the only citizen-produced deficit reduction plan to receive a CBO score—tries to tackle the root causes of economic problems, as its creators see them. It prioritizes domestic investments in infrastructure, education and the social safety net along with reforms to health care, and includes a "Too Big to Fail" tax designed to stabilize the financial sector.
Its creators question the prevailing call for across-the-board cuts and idea of "shared sacrifice" as the best or only solution.
"When we surveyed the landscape of America, we felt that lower- and middle-income people really shouldn’t have to sacrifice more than they already have over the last 30 years of economic growth in this country," says Zachary Kolodin, 26, who directs the Roosevelt Institute’s Future Preparedness Initiative. "So we designed a plan that actually cuts taxes for most lower- and middle-income people, that makes investments in education and health care that make those services better for all Americans, but especially for middle and lower income people,"
Big Ideas—Beyond Idealism
The Budget for Millennial America builds on Roosevelt's Think2040 work over the past year to develop a Blueprint for Millennial America, in which more than 3,000 young people from diverse communities worked together (in person and online) to develop a shared vision for the future of the nation.
The result was an ambitious, entrepreneurial and, its creators say, inspiring blueprint.
"Whenever someone comes up with something like that, especially young people, people chalk it up to idealism -- 'Great, its cute you want to invest here or there, I was idealistic at 19 too, but it's just not possible, there’s no money for it," Doe told SparkAction.
Now, budget (and CBO score) in hand, "we can show we're serious about paying for it," Doe said.
Roosevelt’s Budget for Millennial America was calculated entirely by young people ages 18 to 26, working in small workgroups around key areas like defense, health, and tax policy. A panel of nine expert advisors—including economist Dean Baker, Social Security expert Virginia Reno, and James Klumpner, a longtime Democratic Chief Economist with Congress—were available to answer questions and reality check ideas.
“They didn’t start the conversation," says Kolodin. "They didn't come in and give a presentation, but rather we let students start with their vision and then run it by the experts, bouncing ideas off of them but not allowing them to dictate the process."
Like Congress, workgroup members quickly found that it’s not easy to reach consensus.
Chris Scanzoni, a 20-year-old student at UNC Chapel Hill, was part of the Defense working group. He called the experience “very empowering.”
“We would pore over briefs and reports and different recommendations by other institutes as well as official recommendations in Congress or legislation, and we’d come together … and hash out every issue, and come to agreement about where we should cut and where, in some cases, to augment,” he says.
Milad Alucozai, a Purdue University student from Kabul, Afghanistan, says the Millennial Budget “Is a great blend of ideas. Would I agree with everything in it? No. But that's the beauty of it, that’s the Millennial approach; there are a lot of different perspectives and voices that went into this."
The Millennials behind this budget say they will continue to promote these ideas at the national level, and hope today's Fiscal Summit is the start of a larger, broader conversation.
"Economists talk about the big budget items like [social security and health care] and don’t as often flesh out discretionary spending. It really needs to be a much wider discussion – one that's not just about making an equation equal but about the kind of America we want to live in, the kind of future we want. We need to start there and then figure out how to pay for it," says Hilary Doe.
Doe, Kolodin and the other creators hope this will help democratize the budget process, encouraging citizens, young and old, to participate, rather than defer to economists and experts. (Learn more about “participatory budgeting.")
There is also significant local work. In the six months between the release of the BluePrint and the Budget, Roosevelt members have been active in communities and states across the country to enact their policy ideas and priorities.
In December, Roosevelt will release an update to its Blueprint, and is inviting Millennials across the country to share their ideas.
Watch the videos and check out all six budget plans on the Peterson Fiscal Summit page. Also, check out Hilary Doe discussing the budget on Fox Network's Stossel Show, below.
Caitlin Johnson is managing editor of SparkAction. Alison Waldman, SparkAction's editorial & policy intern, contributed to the reporting and interviewing.