David Oman
David Oman

October 26, 2018

Should Congress cut defense spending? Get tougher on welfare programs?

Or perhaps look at certain farm programs for expansion or trimming? Foreign aid?

The public is invited to attend a free interactive exercise on the federal budget developed by the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, a powerhouse Washington organization on fiscal matters, at the Carroll campus of Des Moines Area Community College.

The event, which allows attendees to structure their own federal budgeting with an eye on reining in debt, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in Room 142 at DMACC. The Principles and Priorities exercise has been run dozens and dozens of times across the U.S. to all kinds of audiences.

Now, it is coming to Carroll, where it is sponsored by the Carroll Chamber of Commerce, Des Moines Area Community College, the Carroll Daily Times Herald and La Prensa Hispanic Newspaper.

“Iowans are heavily engaged in politics three out of every four years,” said David Oman, of Des Moines, a senior advisor to The Concord Coalition of Washington, D.C. “We see dozens of candidates of every stripe, and in presidential cycles, from everywhere. We are seriously spoiled with talent coming in here. When offered the opportunity to ask questions, we tend to focus on the news of the day — a terror event, divisive hot-button issues such as immigration, or deeply ideological issues. Rarely do we think about, let alone ask about, what our country can do about a $21-trillion national debt.”

Oman, a former chief of staff to Iowa Govs. Robert Ray and Terry Branstad, said getting to solutions of the debt issue starts with better educating people on repercussions of the federal debt.

“It took our country decades to get into this huge debt hole, though over half of the debt was incurred in the past two years, under presidents and congressional majorities of both political parties,” Oman said. “It will take years and decades to solve this. An issue than spans several generations is thus a moral issue — and, in turn, one that cannot be ignored any longer.”

Oman said some of the best Concord budget exercises, including one at Drake University in Des Moines and in Cedar Rapids this spring, involved seniors and some college students, not only in the same room but at the same table.

“Their perspectives on debt were a little different, but both age groups selected some of the same, hard options to help solve the debt crisis,” Oman said. “It was heartening to see. I told them they got more done in 90 minutes than Congress did in the past year, at least on this front. And, by the way, all the participants and those at an event in Minnesota two weeks ago left saying they not only learned a lot, but they had fun.”

Concord was begun in 1992, so it’s a little more than 25 years old. Current chairs are former U.S. Sens. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a Democrat, and John Danforth of Missouri, a Republican.

“Both were strong advocates of honest, disciplined budgets when they were in Congress, and they still are,” Oman said. “Given the proximity of their states and Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, it makes perfect sense for Concord to be running events like this. Iowa has an outsized voice in national politics, and we can make it heard on this issue, too.”