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The Newest Fiscal Solution - Designed by You

Sick of hearing how politicians can't solve the nation's debt crisis?

The debt to gross national product ratio is creeping up to scary levels, according to economists. Congress passed the ball to a super committee, which couldn't solve the problem. Then it set up automatic cuts and tax hikes that go into effect next month - but now many lawmakers want to undo that.

To people sitting at home thinking they could do a better job: Have at it. There are a couple of online fiscal calculators to help you.

The tool offered by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget shows you some of the major choices and allows you to pick which options make sense. Then you click a button and get your results ... balancing the budget might be harder than it sounds.

The calculator sponsored by Concord Coalition and Next 10 starts you off $2.3 trillion in the hole, and you dig out from there. In addition to places in the budget you can cut, it also gives you proposals for new programs that would add to the deficit. That's the real world that lawmakers operate in: Despite the nation's fiscal woes, a parade of interest groups and lobbyists are always pushing for more money for their agendas.

These calculators drive home just how much is at stake with each choice. Gradually raising the Medicare retirement age to 67, for instance, saves $125 billion. Raising the amount of income that is subject to Social Security payroll taxes would bring in $457 billion for retirement benefits. Big numbers like those suggest why some lawmakers want to make those programs part of a budget deal. As a famous bank robber reportedly once said, "That's where the money is."

On the other hand, savings from many programs often targeted for cuts may not amount to all that much. Cutting all foreign economic aid in half, for instance, saves just $90 billion. Cutting welfare only saves $30 billion. Arts and humanities grant cuts would save just $10 billion.

Once you click enough choices for cutting and stop seeing a sea of red ink, try getting 535 of your friends and relatives to do the exercise together and agree on a solution.

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