AmericaSpeaks released an interim report today from our June 26 National Town Meeting that engaged 3,500 Americans across nearly 60 sites around the country in a day-long deliberation about the nation's fiscal future.
Earlier I wrote about the strong message that members of the public sent about the kind of democracy they want and what it meant for them to take part in an authentic, civil discussion on national policy issues. But participants also sent a strong substantive message about the kinds of policies that they would support in order to reduce the deficit over the long-term to a sustainable level.
Our new report provides additional insight into how the views of participants on spending and revenue options broke down by ideology and geography. It describes the preferences of diverse table groups that developed packages to reach the long-term deficit reduction goal and corrects errors in preliminary voting results reported during and immediately upon the conclusion of the meeting.
A few key findings stand out from the report:
- Defense Spending: Reducing national defense spending was one of the most popular options for cutting the national deficit. 85% of participants at the 19 primary town meeting sites supported at least a 5% cut, and 51% of participants supporting a 15% cut. A cut of at least 5% in defense spending was supported by 60% of "conservative" participants and 83% of those who identified themselves as "somewhat conservative"
- Health Care and Other Spending: While participants expressed moderate support for increased government action to boost the economy in the short term, participants also expressed long-term support for reductions in health care and "all other non-defense" spending to reduce the deficit to a sustainable level over the next 15 years. 62% of participants supported at least a 5% reduction in the former and 68% supported at least a 5% reduction in the latter. 36% of liberal participants and 58% of those describing themselves as "somewhat liberal" expressed support for a 5% reduction in health care spending. 44% of liberal participants supported at least a 5% reduction in "all other non-defense" spending.
- Income Taxes: A majority of participants supported raising some taxes to reduce our long-term deficits, specifically on those in higher tax brackets. For example, 54% supported an extra 5% tax on those earning more than1 million a year.
- Carbon and Securities Taxes: Participants also expressed support for a carbon tax (54%) and a securities transaction tax (50%). In developing their deficit reduction packages, one-third of participants who described themselves as "somewhat conservative" expressed support for a carbon tax and securities transaction tax.
- Retirement Age and VAT Tax: Two reform options that have received significant attention from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform - raising the retirement age for receiving Social Security benefits and creating a Value Added Tax - failed to achieve support from a majority of participants. Only 39% of participants supported raising the age for receiving full benefits to 69 and only 24% supported the creation of 5% Value Added Tax.
- Additional Options: Two reforms not included in the presentation to participants but which received strong support from many table groups were reforming the health care delivery system through the creation of a single-payer system and the simplification of the tax code through the creation of a flat or fair tax.
In just two hours, about half of the diverse table groups that took part in the National Town Meeting were able to find enough common ground to reduce the deficit in 2025 by $1.2 trillion. It's now up to our national leaders to follow their lead and seek compromises to address this important challenge facing our nation.