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Econ Students to Discuss National Debt with Concord Coalition Experts

Alice Rivlin, James Capretta, and Robert BixbyA group of economics students from Iowa's three public universities will discuss the nation's ballooning federal debt with a panel of esteemed economists being brought to campus by The Concord Coalition on April 13 at The University of Iowa.

The economists are part of The Concord Coalition's Fiscal Solutions Tour and are planning a day of events in Iowa City to bring attention to the country's soaring government debt. The students—about 15 from each of The University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa—are taking classes on their campuses that examine the federal debt and researching proposals to bring it under control.

"They're looking at questions such as: what's the size of the deficit, what it's projected to do in the future, and most importantly, what's the breakdown of federal spending that is creating the debt," said John Solow, a professor of economics in the UI Tippie College of Business who is coordinating the project and teaching a class called Debt and Deficits.

They will get together with students from ISU and UNI at 3 p.m. on April 13 to discuss the issue with Concord Coalition experts who are some of the most prominent fiscal economists in the country. Alice Rivlin was director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office during the Clinton Administration, and a former vice chair of the Federal Reserve; James Capretta was assistant director of OMB during the George W. Bush administration; and Robert Bixby is executive director of The Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to fiscal responsibility.

"It's rare the college students get a chance to meet with a panel made up of such prominent experts and interact with them like this," Solow said. "We've known for more than 30 years that some of these budget issues are going to reach a crisis point, but we haven't done anything about it. This will give the students a chance to find out why face-to-face."

Also participating will be students from classes about public debt and financing taught by professor Daniel Otto at ISU and professor Bulent Uyar at UNI. The three faculty members have synchronized their class to some degree this spring so the students own a similar base of understanding when they meet with The Concord Coalition panelists.

Solow said the students in his class are working in groups and examining the budget to understand the nature of the deficit. For instance, he said they discovered early in their research that anyone who hopes to address the debt is going to have to deal with three politically touchy issues that consume the largest portion of federal spending—Social Security, defense, and government-provided health care benefits, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

"But we're not looking at the political side," he said. "There's no slogans or political arguments, just economic arguments."

Solow said his students have examined three proposals that have been made to address Social Security reform—one by a liberal group, one by a conservative group, and one by the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

"We've found that there's a lot of common ground across all three plans that would go some distance to answer the Social Security question," Solow said.

At the end of the semester, Solow said his students will present their own ideas about how to reduce the debt.

Following the student meeting, the Fiscal Solutions Tour will begin its presentation at 6:30 p.m. in room C20 of the Pomerantz Center. Admission is free and open to the public. The Fiscal Solutions Tour is designed to engage the public in a realistic, nonpartisan dialogue about our nation's fiscal and economic challenges, the range of potential solutions and trade-offs, and how we can leave a stronger, more prosperous nation to our children and generations still to come.

The tour does not advance a specific set of policies but provides different perspectives on many of the options. These include defense and domestic spending cuts, Social Security and Medicare reforms, improvements in the health care system, better tax policies, and tougher budget controls in Congress.


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