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Video Game Shows How Americans Would Balance the Budget

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If you’re like many American citizens, you’ve taken your share of pot shots at Congress, and most recently the Congressional “Super Committee,” for its failure to broker a deficit reduction deal. You may have also sounded off your own ideas about how you’d balance the budget, counting on your fingers -- à la certain presidential candidates -- which government agencies you’d cut if it were up to you.

Assuming you can actually remember which departments those are, an online Flash game called Budget Hero gives you the chance to do the job our elected officials have thus far neglected. More than just a fiscal take on the popular Guitar Hero series by Activision, Budget Hero was created by American Public Media (a tax-funded institution, by the way) and uses data from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), allowing players to prove their budget balancing mettle by deciding how to spend and cut across the policy spectrum.

Unlike Guitar Hero, unfortunately, it probably won’t generate as much crossover appeal as the Xbox-PlayStation-iPhone-Android franchise.

In an interview with Linda Fantin, one of the game’s creators and the Director of Network Journalism and Innovation at American Public Media, we learned exactly how ordinary Americans would get our fiscal house in order. In stark contrast to Congress, a diverse mix of players from different age groups, income brackets, and political affiliations managed to come to a general consensus -- a super majority if you will -- about how to control the deficit.

The single biggest policy decision, with nearly 79% support, was to cut defense spending by removing troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other popular government reforms came in the form of simplifying the tax code, cutting discretionary spending by 10%, requiring wealthier seniors to pay more for prescription drug benefits and raising the social security age. Players were generally reluctant to raise taxes but did support ending subsidies for Big Oil. (Sorry BP and Exxon!)

"One of our big takeaways from all of this is that when you give people the option to weigh the consequences of their decisions,” said Fantin, “they're actually able to make decisions that, in some cases, go against their own self interest.”

Now all we have to do is get 12 of these players elected to Congress without corporate financing, shield them from lobbyists, give them immunity from removal from office by their constituents, and throw them in a room together for a week or so to bang this thing out.

See, balancing the budget isn’t so hard. And it didn’t even require a plastic guitar controller.
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