Science and Technology Innovation Program

New Game Lets American Public Be Budget Heroes

Wilson Center Launches Budget Hero 2.0 with American Public Media

Jul 19, 2011

Lawmakers from both parties agree that America needs a national conversation about our debt. At a July 13 event on Capitol Hill, Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, and Mark Udall, (D-Colo.) embraced the popular game Budget Hero as a way to jump start that discussion.

Play the Budget Hero 2.0 game at www.budgethero.org.

These senators, in partnership with the Wilson Center’s Science Technology and Innovation Program (STIP) and the Public Insight Network at American Public Media, launched an updated version of Budget Hero with former Representatives John Tanner (D-Tenn.) and Robert Livingston (R-La.), who was House Appropriations Committee Chair in 1997 when a balanced budget was enacted.

“The point of the game is to educate and empower us and I hope it is played in schools and right here at the Capitol,” Sen. Udall told reporters.

Already, Budget Hero 2.0 has picqued the interest of fiscal experts as well as the general public. In just a week, the new version was played by 90,000 people and has garnered stories by The Washington Post, Fox News, and NPR.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

While debate continues in Washington over raising the debt ceiling, many Americans remain confused about underlying budget issues.

This latest version of Budget Hero includes updated Congressional Budget Office numbers and text about the pros and cons of various budget decisions.

“I have been arguing for months that we should be [discussing the budget] publicly in the constitutional process so the American people could see what’s going on,” Sessions said on a news talk show last week. “We’re not just going to ratify some secret deal even if our good leaders plop it down on the floor of the Senate...I really believe we need a national discussion.”

At this event, two college students played the game, one as a Democrat and one as a Republican. They created mock budgets based on their budgetary priorities and explained how their choices affected the budget well into the future.


Former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) and Wilson Center Director Jane Harman
Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) and Jane Harman

"Budget Hero provides facts—not spin or ideological talking points—such as exactly how much we spend on foreign assistance, the military budget, health care and on entitlements, and what difference it would make to cut or eliminate them, or to increase them," explained former congresswoman Jane Harman, who is director, president, and CEO of the Wilson Center. "At a time when the Congressional conversation about the budget has all but broken down, we are here...to provide a teaching tool to the American people...That way, the American public can become the heroes we need."

The original Budget Hero has been played nearly 1 million times and it’s been covered in at least 100 blogs with various sources calling it “fascinating,” “very cool,” and “instructive and fun.” The new version, Budget Hero 2.0, has been updated to reflect financial sector bailouts, stimulus plans and major policy initiatives with budgetary implications, such as health care reform. In the latest update to the game, there are some new policy cards including Sen. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan; freezing military spending; and a Tea Party option.

“If we’ve learned anything with the Public Insight Network and with Budget Hero, it’s that the American people, regardless of politics or personal background, have an incredible capacity to understand complex issues and an eagerness to share their insights—with journalists and policy makers,” said Linda Fantin, director of Network Journalism and Innovation for American Public Media.

“People also are willing to make tough tradeoffs, even when those decisions run contrary to their own personal interests,” Fanton added. “Many participants said members of Congress should be required to play the game.”

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