Student Perspectives: The group's process
Alex: The first day we were just brainstorming. As the day went on, we realized this is kind of fun so we really started to put in what we believed in. The first budget we presented--we loved that budget. This is a really good budget and we think if the government took that budget, it would have worked really well. Everyone else presented [their budgets] and they’re all different, because different people [with] different beliefs [are] going to have a different budget. [When] we read the real budget it looked nothing like our budget at all.
[In] our original budget, defense was around seven or eight percent. The real budget was around 16 percent. That’s a lot different than what we thought was necessary and so we changed it and we ended up taking away from so many things. We had transportation around three percent. We had agriculture and labor around 1.5 percent. Eventually they all dropped down to like .25 percent. All of a sudden this budget that was really good was something that was horrible that we didn’t believe in any more. I think that took away from the feeling that we received doing the project, because now we’re going back from what we believe, writing what people want to hear. I think that that’s exactly what happened to us in day two where we had to change what we thought was a good budget into a budget that we didn’t like as much.
Day three we realized that we were going to present our revised budget so we kind of made some minor tweaking to the speech, because the speech was still addressing the people and now we were addressing Congress. Most quiet people don’t want to go last. I want to go first. I want to get it over with. When we got up there that’s when I started to speak out. I felt good about myself.
Andrew: Right now it’s sort of [at] opposite ends of the spectrum. I am really conservative. I am a Republican and [another student] is a liberal and very Democratic. From there it really flows from one side to the other. [A third student] is more conservative but she has a few liberal ideas. [A fifth] is about in the middle. Most of us have unique personalities. [My group mate] is an awesome guy. He knows so much about [the] environment and different trouble spots, and how things should go, while I prefer economic hands-on. I know a bunch about the stock market. My grandpa has been teaching me. I also knew a bunch about defense because its one of my hobbies--war and military. Most people have different things that they know about or specialize in. It is very helpful because our class is so diversified. Everybody has a different interest than everybody else. It is very helpful when you are trying to compile a bunch of stuff using a bunch of people in the group. It makes doing projects a lot more easier.
Caitlin: We started out deciding that we needed to have three different groups. We have money we need to go into states so that they can allocate it. The departments were divided into departments [and] entitlements (such things as Social Security, Medicare, Welfare). We need to have an interdepartment and we need to have an interentitlement. We were discussing how much should go into which area. Then [we talked about] coming up with programs. You have them every day in your life. You really don’t take the time to wonder where they come from so you really don’t say Medicare is a governmental program. You think it’s a money source. Coming up with programs was probably the hardest [task].
You are also using technology. We made databases, [did] word processing. We are also using our language skills to come up with our speeches. We are also using political knowledge and things such as having the knowledge of which departments to put it into. We are using things that she taught us from earlier years. Then also, we have kind of outside knowledge where politicians use these tactics to try and get their budget passed. Little things like [saying] "God Bless America."
Emily: The first group was the conservative group. They were the ones that wanted to just go attack, attack, attack. I agreed with the second group probably more, because they wanted to pull us out of the other countries and focus on energy policy. Hillary Clinton is a really big advocate for different sources of energy. I asked a question about prenatal care. I think prenatal care is important because if you take care of a baby before it’s born then you won’t have to maybe spend as much once it’s born because it will have less birth defects or less problems. I read a statistic somewhere [that] every dollar you spend prenatally, you save 20 once it’s born.
George: She placed, I think, the most liberal kid in the class, which is me, and the most conservative kid in the class, in the same group. Coming from a conservative community, there are so many people around me that share his beliefs that I pretty much know what to expect. There have been a few debates, and we have been sort of arguing over a few things, but it’s not been too bad. There is [another member] who is enthusiastic and a peacemaker and adds humor to the situation. [A third member] sort of balances things out a little more. We did not get to work with [a fourth member] for most of the debate, but she sort of brings us back on track when we keep debating the same issue. I came to a pretty good compromise. I think that we talked about it for quite awhile, and we listed our priorities. We each got a little bit of our own priorities into the budget.
Michael: To start off with, we recognized that 60 or 70 percent of the budget goes to entitlements--social security, the payroll programs, Medicare, Worker’s Compensation--and paying interest on the national debt. So we just set aside 60 percent. We had 40 percent to split among the different cabinets of the executive branch. We pretty much just brainstormed on what we felt was most important, how much they should get, [and] what the American people would feel is most important right now, especially after September 11th, where everybody is in a big boost for defense and military and homeland security. But also there has been a big push from the America people for education and things like that.
I personally felt that the most important thing for the budget was education, but it was overwhelming that they all believed that military was more important. We decided that military got seven percent of the 40 percent we had left to allocate and we gave education 6.5 percent--close, but not quite what we gave the military.
Sarah: They are all very intelligent people and I guess I kind of assumed the role of leader within the group. I would ask them, “What do you think is the most important?” and they would list whatever ones they thought and then we would all talk about it and decide. One of the girls wasn’t very clear on some of the issues and we just explained those to her. When she understood, she was a lot better at adding more to the group. One of the boys is a little quieter but when you ask him, he has a lot to say. We started off by listing all the different cabinet positions and we thought about which ones would be the most important. We came down to defense, education, and the state department, and we just wanted to make sure that the ones that we thought were most important got the most money. I like to listen to what other people have to say and sometimes I feel like I’m talking way too much and I need other people’s input. So I would have to sit back and listen. If I didn’t understand or I wanted them to elaborate more for it to make more sense, I would definitely ask them questions. It’s so complicated for me to sit down and decide where this money is going to go because there are tons of people in this country who want the funds to go to different places and you know the lobbyists are pulling for it to go this way or the other. You have to decide as a President what you think the most important things are but once [you] present it to Senate then you have 100 Senators pulling it in each direction, trying to decide or compromise on where this money should go in supporting this country.
Tony: Our group was very, very liberal. We focused more on the environment. Because we were so liberal we [had] a lot of conflicts on how liberal we could be. [One student is] very, very liberal. He also had a lot of knowledge of things. He does a lot of reading outside of school and knew so much we were just mind-boggled. [Another student] and I are both very enthusiastic in school. We like what we do. We’re very interested in it so we both are very competitive and like the idea of this whole project. We both kind of wanted to be President, but I went ahead and let him be President. Since he was President, he was allowed to answer most of the questions and control a lot of the budget-making process. We were his advisors essentially.
The first day, we decided that we should prioritize what should be given the most money. So we decided as a group that education was important [as well as] defense and energy. But [one student] brought up the point that the Middle East is becoming a problem and that we needed to become more self-sufficient. [Another student] agreed, but they couldn’t agree on how much separation from the Middle East we should have. One [felt] we should be completely by ourselves and take away money from defense and put it into energy. That way we don’t even have to deal with the Middle East. [The other’s idea was] to wean ourselves off oil so we could have more research into alternate energy plans, clean air, and such. Essentially, all we did was debate on whether energy should be a top priority or one of the secondary ones and why.
We were the first group to present our budget to the Congress. I introduced [the] President. Everyone accepted our plan because we had essentially 12 percent of the budget going to education, defense, and energy. We didn’t really mention Veterans Affairs, [and] other things, like Health and Human Services, had very meager amounts.
After all the groups presented, Ms. Martin showed us how much is actually allocated to different programs. We were very shocked that Medicare receives 23 percent of the budget. Medicaid got seven percent. That’s up to 30, and then social security got like another 15 percent. We only allocated six percent of our budget to Health and Human Services--and that [had to] cover social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Then she told us to redo our budget according to this information. It was amazing. We ended up turning Veterans Affairs, which was at three percent, down to .5 percent of the budget. That’s still $20 billion, but that’s a huge decrease. We had severely decreased [education], even though we wanted to increase education so we could have better leaders of tomorrow.
Our second presentation was not accepted as much. Many people felt that the .5 percent going to Veterans Affairs was not enough, due to the baby boomer population that is currently receiving social security. They thought that a lot more money should be put into that area of the budget. We didn’t quite agree because of our liberal standpoint and the environmental conditions that we focused on. We hadn’t really thought that much about Veterans Affairs. A few members of our group figured that the older population is quickly dying out and that we need to put more money into the younger population. But we did make a good point at the end that even though we are decreasing funds there is a decrease in the population. As [one student] pointed out, a lot of senior citizens and veterans weren’t receiving adequate health care and social security because their state government hadn’t put enough into the postal service to deliver medications and testing kits and stuff to the people on time.
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