Winter is coming: Be a Budget Hero before the U.S. reaches a ‘fiscal cliff’

Dave Gustafson
Public Insight Network

Budget Hero game screenshot

The online Budget Hero game from American Public Media’s Public Insight Network allows players to create a federal budget that fits their values and see the long-term consequences of their choices. [PLAY BUDGET HERO]

The day-to-day presidential campaign coverage of President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney dominates news from Washington, but a gigantic political fight with serious implications for the economy is brewing for later this year.

Hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of federal spending cuts and tax increases are set to take effect in January if Congress fails to act between now and then. This “fiscal cliff” is about more than simple political winners and losers; many economists fear that it could throw the fragile U.S. economy into another recession.

Among the possible effects of plunging over that cliff: Tax cuts enacted by President George W. Bush would expire, as would some long-term unemployment benefits and a temporary payroll tax cut.

An automatic $1.2 trillion reduction in federal spending would begin to take effect, which would primarily affect military and domestic programs.

On the health care front, Medicare reimbursements to doctors would also be cut significantly and wealthy Americans would have to pay more taxes to help fund health insurance for more Americans.

The stage is set for another potentially nasty battle in Washington, reminiscent of last year’s fight over raising the federal government’s “debt ceiling,” with this fight most likely to come during the lame-duck session — after November’s election, but before the new Congress takes office in January.

Now you have a chance to tackle the federal budget on your own — and inform the work of journalists in the process.

The Budget Hero game lets you choose from actual policy proposals to construct a federal budget that reflects your personal values. In the process, you can see the trade-offs of your decisions and their long-term effects on the nation’s fiscal health.

In the coming months, reporters and analysts at the Public Insight NetworkPatchwork Nation and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars will dig into the data generated by people –  like you — playing Budget Hero in order to report on how people choose to balance short-term needs and long-term debt concerns.

Become a Budget Hero now.

Learn more about the team behind Budget Hero.

Dave Gustafson Reporter
Public Insight Network
Dave Gustafson is a Public Insight Network reporter -- and the first-ever reporter hired to do journalism out of gamification. He embedded with Patchwork Nation, a project of the Jefferson Institute, to report around the Budget Hero game in June. Born in an Industrial Metropolis, he grew up in Service Worker Center and Campus and Careers community types. He now lives in a Monied Burb near Washington, D.C. Most recently, Dave was acting managing editor for digital news at the PBS NewsHour.