Friday, June 4, 2010
Time for Grownups to Come to the Table
'A place at the table'.
It's a phrase that I and others have used often. What does it mean? If you participate in 'America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy' a national town hall meeting in which ordinary citizens will get a chance to engage one another around our country's persistent, threatening fiscal conundrum, you'll find out.
Funded by the Peter J. Peterson Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and sponsored in Dallas by several local organizations (including Central Dallas Ministries), America Speaks will host 20 '21st century town hall meetings, in which those concerned about government spending and the deficit will give their opinions on what should be done to solve the nation's seemingly intractable financial challenges.
When first presented with the opportunity to help sponsor the event, some of the invitees meeting at Dallas' KERA-PBS studios, mentioned the fact that we've all been a part of similar 'forums' and 'conferences' seeking our 'input' on public policy and social issues. What usually happens is our perspectives were dutifully recorded and summarily dismissed. What's supposed to be different this time?
First of all, the make-up of the group. This will be an opportunity for those across a broad, bi-partisan, economic spectrum, who will have the chance to voice their perspectives and their priorities, face to face and, with the aid of technology, from city to city. Five hundred people in each of 20 major cities throughout the U.S. in a true national dialogue about the economy.
Secondly, Washington has committed to listen. "When the town halls are over, [America Speaks founder and president Carolyn] Lukensmeyer said, AmericaSpeaks has meetings planned with the White House Fiscal Responsibility Commission and the staffs of the congressional budget committees."
Last year the federal deficit was $1.4 trillion. We have two wars, tax cuts, prescription drug benefit plan that haven't been paid for. Health care reform that will add to the deficit (anyone who thought otherwise should probably have his or her head examined - if they have insurance; note of self disclosure - I support the health care reform legislation that was passed. In fact, I don't think it went far enough. But you still have to find a way to pay for it.). We have to make decisions on what expenditures are going to be a part of our social compact with one another; which entitlements will be cut or trimmed and whose taxes are going to be raised.
President Obama, talking about the work of his bi-partisan commission on the deficit, says 'everything must be on the table'. But what is 'everything'? Can some consensus be reached among everyday citizens most impacted by prospects of mounting government debt? What is the alternative in the face of the daunting challenge of climbing out of the deep money pit into which the country fell in the fall of 2008? Its a public conversation in which the public needs to be involved - not simply as catharsis, but as responsible citizens in dialogue with one another and their elected representatives.
The thick curtain of the blogesphere allows people to an opportunity to vent (all too often discourteously). But making a difference means coming from behind the curtain, being willing to talk with one another without 'rage' that leaves vulnerable groups prey to self serving politicians, pundents, radio ring masters and entertainers, but meaningfully, substantively and respectfully.
What does it mean to 'reign in spending'? What cherished entitlements need to be 'modified'? And whose taxes should be raised (no, you cannot simply cut your way out of $1.4 trillion dollars of debt. At some point you've got to have revenue).
It's time for the grown-ups to come to the table and talk reasonably to one another and their government.
America Speaks and Central Dallas Ministries believes that includes you.
Register in your city here.