The Public’s Budget Should be Accessible, Detailed, Modular and Digital

Leadership-quality speeches can be good.   Aspirational statements sketch ideas and tone, and are a step in building support for a goal.   But they are seldom actionable plans, for example; “The budget outline… includes rewriting the tax code, reforming entitlements, stabilizing the national debt, freezing domestic spending and rewriting federal budget rules—all in a handy seven pages of talking points” (Gang of 6 proposal).   When spending trillions of taxpayer dollars affecting hundreds of millions of people, specifics really matter — timeline, source and spending amounts, who benefits or loses and the changes from current status.

 

Too regularly proposals are offered for public support in extremes – talking points or an opaque “bill”.    A 200 page “bill” in legalese does not adequately inform the public.  It may be comfortable for politicians (if they read it before voting), but it’s not very useful to consumers.  At another extreme, class-warfare-laced speeches or talking-point memos communicate little of substance, but may distract attention from a budget’s ugly specifics – if they are written down. 

 

Suppose there were a framework for the Fed budget that was digital, composite, modular, and available to the public on the web.  It could consist of snap-in / pop-out modules (e.g. a module for Social Security, another for Defense, another for National Parks…).  Each module would have a description, financial and beneficiary detail for 10 future years, and perhaps sub-modules (e.g. Social Security may have separate sub-modules for those aged 62+ and for disabled beneficiaries).   And each module must be validated by an independent, non-partisan expert economic and financial body, not by advocates. 

 

That framework presents the public with a coherent picture of the entire current budget; all spending, beneficiary, and funding details.  It’s built to allow showcasing proposals.  It’s a public budget equivalent of a family’s periodic review of spending, income, loans and planned activities.

 

The framework should help advocates.  For example; someone who proposes to cut subsidizing ethanol in automobile fuel should expect impacts in the energy and agriculture sectors, taxpayers (subsidy source), households (fuel buyers), and government workers in EPA, and the Departments of Agriculture and Energy.  The proposal’s estimates should identify those impacts and be validated by a competent non-partisan economic and financial body.  To promote public interest the proposer would place their budget proposal module on the web and refer to it in interviews, speeches and adverts.   The public could snap-out the official modules covering those aspects and snap-in the proposal modules to see the changes.  News media and the public would have accessible, intelligible and high quality information to work with.   

 

This approach offers the consumer clarity, detail, and convenience.   It will not block camera-seeking, speeches or finger-wagging, but it will offer a detailed, factual oasis in politics’ bloviation desert.   Consumers deserve access to the important details before agreeing to have their money spent for them.

 

Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Florida.  He follows public policy issues from the consumer’s perspective

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