Try Your Hand At Stabilizing The National Debt

Everyone agrees that the U.S. debt has risen to scary heights. What not everyone agrees on is what needs to be done to keep the debt from going past the point of no return. Now comes a new interactive tool that lets you try your hand at deciding what sacrifices we all need to make.

Put together by the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the simulator first asks you to review several big-picture (and big-money) policy issues like whether to renew tax cuts, freeze the sustainable growth rate, or reduce/maintain troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You are then presented with options in the Defense, Domestic, Social Security, Healthcare, Revenue and Tax Expenditure categories, all with the goal of getting the debt to equal 60% of GDP by 2021.

Explains the CRFB:

We need to establish an ambitious yet attainable fiscal goal and commit as a nation to achieving it. Public debt at 60% of GDP is an internationally recognized standard that represents a sound target for stabilizing the debt in the medium term. We should also look to reduce the debt further in the long term, towards the historical level of around 40% of GDP.

Give it a shot at (NOTE: We had some trouble getting it to work in the latest version of Firefox but Chrome worked just fine).

Think You Can Cure The Nation’s Budget Woes?


Edit Your Comment

  1. scoosdad says:

    Maybe EA can send this out as a replacement for Rock Band.

  2. samonela says:

    Did this last year….succeeded!

    It just required making a LOT of people (from all socioeconomic levels) pissed off. But you know what? Suck it up. Especially you Welfare and Defense budgets!

    • tekmiester says:

      Did you just suggest replacing the army with welfare recipients? Genius!

      • clippy2.0 says:

        Don’t they do that already?

      • Gman says:

        Man that is such a better idea than mine: Replace the military defense budgets with nerf guns purchased from ebay.

      • Geekybiker says:

        Lol. I bet if the choice was join the army or find a job we’d have a hell of a lot less people on welfare.

        • Firethorn says:

          Thing is, standards for the army have increased substantially, to the point that most adults in the USA are ineligible. I want a quality military.

          That being said, I’d support a ‘Federal Jobs Program’ that works like what was done back during the great depression – hire a whole lot of people and have them do something productive for the country. We got a lot of roads, bridges, parks, and such from those programs. Even some lakes and dams, if I remember right.

          I understand that most workers aren’t physical types anymore, much less construction, but there’s plenty to be done regardless.

    • caradrake says:

      I did the same. I think people really need to realize that we should not, as a country, spend money that we do not have. This will involve cutting a *lot* of programs, but until we get financially stable, it is foolish to support everything.

      I think my results were cut to 33% by 2020, and the only thing I kept was the education taxes.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      That’s funny, I balanced the budget in about three minutes just by increasing the retirement age by 3 years and returning tax rates to post-WWII and pre-1920 levels. You know, before they were decreased and caused the Great Depression, and during the greatest boom time our economy has ever seen.

      • partofme says:

        …did you also increase military spending to the levels they were during those times?

      • aerodawg says:

        What it sounds like you did is put in the post-WWII tax rates WITHOUT the huge pile of deductions and exemptions that were tied to them. Basically you did something that is totally at odds with history. The effective tax rates post-WWII were not much different than they are now precisely because of all the deductions and exemptions. Almost nobody paid the ridiculous 90% marginal rates that some people are fond or running their mouths about…

    • aerodawg says:

      In other words, the found the ultimate problem with democracy. When the solution to any problem involves pissing everybody off, it will never get done for political reasons and if it does get done, the people who did it will promptly be voted out of office by people who are running on a platform to undo everything the last guy did.

  3. tekmiester says:

    What this needs are some republicans refusing any increase in taxes, and some democrats refusing any cuts in any social programs. It’s less challenging this way.

    • dolemite says:

      I see it like this:….you really can’t cut social programs in a recession. I mean…are they trying to collapse the economy? BUT…you can easily get rid of loopholes and let tax cuts on wealthy people expire. Will that hurt the economy? Not at all. They are already working their employees to the bone…what are they going to do, fire people simply out of spite and hurt productivity?

      That said, raising taxes slightly on the rich and corporations wouldn’t be enough.

      • Jared The Geek says:

        This is why these games are stupid. I work in the public sector and see huge amounts of waste in my tiny agency. From unqualified staff to idiotic purchases. It does not approach that. Also in California there is a renters credit on the taxes? WTF? I rent but think that credit is stupid. If we just got rid of all deductions. Kill the mortgage interest deduction, kill the child tax credit and all the other write offs and restructure it so they are not needed would be a good step.

        I don’t mind paying a little extra but here in Sacramento it supports 12 public swimming pools that they had to fund raise to keep open. We have 2 rivers and a lake here but we need 12 public pools along with the ones at the YMCA and various other places. How about we cut that back to 4 instead of firing police.

        The other thing they fail to mention is that nearly 46% of those eligible do not pay federal income tax. That needs to be inline with poverty numbers, I don’t meant half their check but everyone should be vested in the costs of living here and the services they use. At the California state level that number is closer to 60% do not pay any state income tax. For both of these its over 80% that receive a “tax refund” even after paying nothing.

        • sagodjur says:

          So these people don’t make enough to even have to pay taxes, so we should take money from them? How does that make sense. If they don’t make that much, the amount they’re taxed won’t be much either. What’s the point in taxing a turnip if it is never going to bleed near enough money to actual make an impact? All you’re doing is hurting the turnip more and making rich people feel better that they’re not the only ones “hurt” by taxes.

  4. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Drop defense spending – it’s the biggest superfluous budget item we have.

    • ajmayo says:

      Agreed, close bases that are not on US soil. Bring troops home. That should save around 1/2 a trillion in the first year alone.

      • dolemite says:

        Yeah, but what are those troops going to do when they get here? There are no jobs.

        My suggestion? Infrastructure repair and maintenance. Actually, that’s my suggestion for all these people on welfare too…send them out to clean up the sidewalks, pick up trash, direct traffic, rake leaves or whatever.

        • Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

          VERY well said, dolemite. I think every able-bodied person who’s getting something from the system should have to give something back. Otherwise, where’s the incentive to get off welfare? Dig a ditch, sweep sidewalks, count traffic, whatever. Give them a job to do in exchange for that paycheck.

          Closing (or at least mothballing) overseas bases is also a good idea. There’s plenty of work to be done here in the US, and training our servicemen and women to perform new skills helps the country now and helps them find employment when they get out.

    • TasteyCat says:

      Aside from the welfare state.

      • nishioka says:

        Yes, the “welfare state”. Where far-flung regions barely stable enough to call themselves nations receive billions in aid from us each year, all because we’re scared some guy named Ahmed might not like us.

    • timstep says:

      But how will we maintain our empire?

  5. RandomHookup says:

    It probably needs a 3rd element to make it more realistic — your electability quotient. To win at the game, you’ll have to do all the balancing while hitting a minimum score that will get you elected/re-elected.

    • YamiNoSenshi says:

      The only winning move is not to play.

      • RandomHookup says:

        Probably. Assuming that you want to remain in office (or leave your party in power after you leave so that your work can’t be undone) is the way to make more real-life decisions.

        • cheezfri says:

          This is so true. I found it easy to raise taxes on corporations and the 1%, but those are the very same people who could probably block my reelection! The fact that money = speech seems completely ridiculous to me. Who speaks for the poor? Oh right, it’s their own fault they’re poor and therefore, screw them…

  6. Gman says:

    Too bad anyone with an actually ability to make these decisions will be screamed at and drummed out of office by talking heads/extremists for actually making a decision that helps the country as a whole instead of just their side of the political spectrum.

    It just annoys the heck out of me when you read or listen to these folks who try as hard as they might to make sure that everything is politicized and deamonize anyone who tries to go halfway.

  7. AtlantaCPA says:

    Marketplace did a thing like this as well:
    …that is all cartoony and fun.

  8. rgoetz says:

    This has to be one of the most poorly designed things I’ve ever seen. They missed making their point due to the poor interface and copious amounts of text. Most people won’t spend their time using this.

  9. Smiley Massacre says:

    Easy. Just check all options in blue and walk away.

    Done and done!

    • PunditGuy says:

      Don’t even need to do that. Once you’ve made the decision to change the way inflation is indexed, more than half the problem goes way.

      Sure, you’ll get a Social Security check for $1588 next year rather than $1603. Tough. I don’t think there was a COLA in the enabling legislation for Social Security. So if you have to take a haircut now so I don’t have to do completely without the program, then do it.

  10. longfeltwant says:

    No problem getting debt down to 48%, and there wasn’t even an option for “reduce the military by 85-90%”, which is how I would address the budget.

    I chose all the options for increasing taxes on the middle and upper classes, reducing SS benefits, and pegging benefits to indices.

    • Major Tom Coming Home says:

      I think one “option” to cut military spending is to go totally isolationist, close all the foreign bases, but keep the boomer submarines. Then proceed to remind other nations we have a very large nuclear arsenal that can reach any target in the world if they try us.

    • longfeltwant says:

      You know, seriously, I’ve now done both simulations (CFPB and Marketplace) and each time is was outright easy to get all the way into Surplus territory. Raise taxes, lower benefits, done. Why is this so hard? Screw old people. Screw soldiers. Screw homeowners (I’m one). Screw people who get health care from work (I’m one). Take away their tax benefits, and blamo suddenly the budget is perfectly fine.

      Apparently the difficulty of fixing the budget isn’t all that difficult. I blame Congress.

  11. zantafio says:

    how about bringing the defense budget back to what it was 12 years ago… around 300 *B*illions a year instead of 800 today…

  12. Major Tom Coming Home says:

    Shame..I would have so worked in another 400 billion for a manned mission to Mars. I’d send a small group of older scientists who volunteer for a one way mission. We’ll send them supplies periodically.

  13. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    How about stop spending money like a trophy wife with a new Neiman Marcus charge card? What about doing the equivalent of sitting down with all the bills, cutting out cable, scaling down the cell phone bill, getting rid of the gym membership, etc?

    The problem is, oxes are going to have to be gored. Yes, it sucks if your ox is gored. But it’s going to have to happen on a large scale in order for us to get back onto financial good footing again.

    • ARP says:

      Or you can get a better job and make more money (i.e. taxes), but you can’t only tax your way to a balanced budget. It takes a combination of cuts and revenue.

  14. ChacoKevy says:

    Partisan wonks will scream against this tool, as it says tax cuts and jobs programs both increase the deficit. Righties will want tax cuts dynamically scored, where they say the revenue is returned because the base is broadened from economic growth, and lefties will say jobs programs reduce deficit because keeping people on payrolls is the kind of countercyclical spending required to avoid the thrift paradox i.e. Spain.
    Nonetheless, it’s important to get people thinking about this stuff. When people see that medical malpractice or foreign aid really isn’t that much of a drag, they can start to see that governing is a tough thing to do.

  15. HowardRoarksTSquare says:

    I reduced the debt to 60 percent of GDP by getting rid of stupid things like free breakfast and the health care mandate.

    • Phildogger says:

      Same here. Well done! No need for free Breakfast for the kids. If parents cannot afford to give the kids breakfast, then they can’t afford kids. Call Social Services, sit back, relax!

      • VintageLydia says:

        Because CPS is cheap to maintain…? Not sure what you’re thinking here.

      • Mrs. w/1 child says:

        Same here. Increase the food stamp allowance and tell people that the government is already paying for your groceries and to get your lazy ass out of bed in the morning and microwave a bowl of oatmeal and fry an egg for your child(ren). Stop paying people to do the minimum amount of work required to keep their children alive. Free apartment? Free kid care/medical care? Free groceries? Cash assistance? Free daycare (school) with before and after care? Free hot school lunch? Free cell phone? NOW YOU NEED FREE BREAKFAST TOO?

        How about, don’t have six children by five different fathers and expect the rest of society to raise your children?

        CPS should be eliminated entirely – they can’t keep endangered children safe and manage to legally kidnap thousands of children who are doing just fine and turn them over to pimps.

  16. El_Fez says:

    Easy – cut the funding to everything, raise taxes and have the debt below 36%! Not a problem!

    (Although I increased NASA’s budget and kept the NEA around)

  17. Major Tom Coming Home says:

    Since we already have such a large military in place, demand tribute from other nations and threaten them with a Bar-B-Q if they don’t comply.


  18. scoutermac says:
    • clippy2.0 says:

      While it wouldn’t be hard to audit, it does require alot of man power. It seems a simple fix would be to limit the credit to legal families (1 kid per family), and removing the credit for non citizens. Why there is even a credit for aliens is beyond me.

    • AtlantaCPA says:

      I’d go one step further and say that no tax credit should be refundable. Once you wipe out all taxes you owe you stop at zero. It’s a simple concept that would need very little auditing.

      What about the working poor? If we still want to help them then go for it – food stamps, food banks, whatever, but make it a separate expense item rather than doing it through taxes. That way it can get more scrutiny.

  19. Coffee says:

    I just killed everyone over the age of 60 and turned them into free fertilizer…mission accomplished (sorry mom, sorry dad).

  20. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    How about we start by cutting off every elected official’s golden retirement plan and health insurance plan? And rather than allowing them to vote themselves pay raises, maybe they can ask their bosses (taxpayers) for the raise. Ya know, like us peasants have to do.

  21. BurtReynolds says:

    53% tax increases, 47% spending cuts. Seems like a moderate approach to me.

    Result is I produced a $254B surplus in 2015 and $456B in 2030.

    Too bad this will never happen in my lifetime. I used way too much common sense and didn’t even jack up the Medicare and SS eligiblity ages. Nor did I cut earmarks. See, I even give these guys a carrot.

  22. phobos512 says:

    All well and good but as pointed out in the comments the policy decisions here in would be completely hampered by the actual politicians, which this simulation could incorporate by a pop-up saying “X lobbyist has threatened you with pulling support for your re-election” or “your constituents stage a protest and burn down an orphanage”, or some such…

    I did get to 59% though.

  23. dush says:

    Hey let’s be like the politicians and kick the can down the road a decade!

  24. Matthew PK says:

    Clearly a flawed approach. The issue is how we promote growth at a faster rate than spending increases.

    This presumes an expense for tax cuts (which is fallacious) and cannot include growth projections for specific reforms.

    Overall this is a stupid exercise.

    • PunditGuy says:

      Tax cuts cause growth beyond their opportunity cost? The Oughts called — they want their economic theory back.

      • Matthew PK says:

        I never suggested any such thing. But tax cuts certainly don’t “cost” us either. That’s like saying that not having a 100% rate “costs” us the remainder of GDP…. it’s simply not true. It’s a misguided, broken-window-fallacy approach to the exercise.

        I’m not advocating supply side, I’m decrying bad statistics.

    • Agent Hooter Enjoys Enhanced Patdowns says:


      • Matthew PK says:

        It’s stupid because it’s a boolean selector of specific “hot topic” issues currently being discussed, completely ignoring the much larger and more nebulous budget.

        This is a calculator implying that the budget choice is akin to what seasoning a debt-serf ought to add to their steak.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      “This presumes an expense for tax cuts (which is fallacious)”

      Only fallacious to reality-based economists.

    • ARP says:

      Um, no. It’s been shown long ago that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves.

      • Matthew PK says:

        I never suggested that tax cuts “pay for themselves” nor did I suggest that they caused growth.

        But raising tax rates doesn’t magically create revenues equal to the difference. The data suggests the opposite: that top marginal tax rates are rather uncorrelated to revenues, whether they are hiked or cut.

  25. Kat says:

    Whenever I hear someone mentioning the budget I always think of that cabinet meeting from the movie Dave

    Also, managed to get the budget to 58%, mostly by using chained CPI, raising the SS age, and raising taxes. Would have rather reduced the retirement plans for congress. Anyone know how much that would save?

  26. Mark702 says:

    1. End the Trillion dollar foreign empire building wars that Bush/Obama started.

    2. End the multi-Billion dollar War on Drugs, aka War on Weed that Regan started, Bush 1 & 2 & Clinton continued, and Obama hypocritically escalated.

    3. End the colossal failure, the massive privacy invasion boondoggle known as the TSA, which has also cost us multiple Billions of dollars.

    4. End the DHS & Patriot Act, which is another multi-Billion dollar waste of our money, only served to strip us of our rights, spy on us, and establish conformity and compliance with searches and monitoring.

    5. End the monolopy that the Federal Reserve has on currency, which has continuously devalued our currency, resulting in a steadily increasing inflation that disproportionately affects the growing poor class and shrinking middle class.

    That’s just a start, there’s a lot more that can be done, but that’s a MASSIVE chunk of wasted money spent just in those 5 bullet points.

  27. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    What they need is an option for “Outlaw political parties and lobbying of all kinds.”

    Probably take care of everything right there.

  28. EmanNeercs says:

    Hmm… I didn’t see an option to decrease the congressional rate of pay/benefits. I really wanted to include that.

  29. Mark702 says:

    Step 1 – Ignore Romney, who is the same as Obama, who is the same a Bush. All of them are horrible and unacceptable. Instead, elect Ron Paul as president.

    Step 2 – Let Ron Paul get us back on track.

    Step 3 – Enjoy peace instead of wars, prosperity instead of poverty, and liberty instead of tyranny.

  30. HomerSimpson says:

    Exterminate the poor and make it so the rich don’t have to pay taxes anymore. Voila! Problem solved!

  31. psm321 says:

    Funny how just like almost all of these simulators it doesn’t really give you the option to raise taxes above the tiny levels proposed by mainstream politicians.

  32. Tiercelet says:

    Everyone agrees that the U.S. debt has risen to scary heights.

    What? No! No, no one with a lick of sense believes anything like this.

    The US issues its own sovereign currency. It is by definition impossible for the US to have an involuntary bankruptcy. There is no reason to worry about the deficit, which would be basically an accounting fiction, save that we happen to decide to pay rich people and banks interest on federal bonds.

    The best way to eliminate the federal deficit is to print some money and pay it off. Poof! No more deficit. No more neoliberal talking points. Then we can get back to worrying about the real source of inflation — demand exceeding the productive capacity of the real economy, which given current unemployment levels can only be driven by scarce physical resources (i.e. desirable real estate and oil).

    Read more:

  33. xanxer says:

    There were not enough choices presented as possible solutions to each budget item. I know you can’t put everything in the generator but a few more options are possible.

  34. AngryK9 says:

    “What not everyone agrees on is what needs to be done to keep the debt from going past the point of no return”

    It seems to me that it has surpassed that point quite a while ago…

  35. eeelaine says:

    It all boils down to campaign reform…

  36. Mrs. w/1 child says:

    There is no option for eliminating troops from Iraq and Afghanistan completely. It is a limited construct with only a choice between “bad” and “worse” options for the budget.

  37. tooluser says:

    Cut! Cut! Cut!

  38. Bob the Builder says:

    It’s simple, fade out social security in less than 10 years. Lower the defense budget to levels well before 9/11. Up eligibility requirements for food stamps, medicare and medicaid. This includes mandatory random drug testing. If you fail, you obviously had the money to buy the necessities, but purposefully decided to do something else with the money. End tax cuts, and replace with a 10% tax rate, no matter the class. Also, reduce the size of government by at least 50%. It will made a lot of people upset, but in the end people and the government will learn to be more responsible with their income.

  39. cheezfri says:

    This may not have all the answers but I think it’s a very good start, and everyone currently living in America from high school age through adulthood should go through this exercise. Particularly if you like crabbing about spending, taxes, “the 1%”, corporations, welfare queens, budgets, Obama, or anything else. Your point may be valid but the solutions aren’t always so easy, and it’s important to understand what kinds of tough decisions have to be made. If you want to talk about increasing spending for healthcare, for example, then you better have a specific solution for decreasing spending elsewhere.

  40. consumerd says:

    I got it down 42% of the GDP. pretty much anywhere I deducted I did it big time. I would piss off a lot of people (especially in the defense dept as well as tax breaks ending for the rich).

  41. Simpledoesit says:

    Big problem? Simple solution! We need a Constitutional Amendment that puts a limit on federal debt which could only be increased in case of a national emergency. The perpetual increasing of the debt limit by elected representatives in Washington needs to end. The federal debt has increased every year since 1957.

    The elected representatives are smart highly motivated people who will be able to figure out how to operate with a credit constraint just like we do in our personal lives.