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A National Garage Sale? Public Shares Budget Ideas

Sun., Jan. 22, 1995

Think it’s hard to balance the federal budget? How about abolishing the Senate. Or creating a government home shopping network to sell IRS-seized assets. Or selling advertising on postage stamps.

That was some of the advice offered last week to the House Budget Committee as it sets off on the daunting challenge to make ends meet.

The ideas came from college students in Boston, investment bankers and corporate executives in New York, Teamsters in Chicago, and, of course, bureaucrats in Washington. The suggestions then were tested in a national poll.

“We will take these ideas and open our minds to them,” said Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, who had invited the recommendations from offbeat marketer Doug Hall.

Hall put out queries on America Online and received more than 2,000 responses.

With a mixture of tongue-in-cheek and earnest devotion to considering new ideas, Kasich said it was “a great idea” to sell ads on stamps. He called a proposal for a national garage sale to peddle 10 percent of the government’s $50 trillion in assets “particularly interesting.”

In fact, about the only ideas Kasich closed his mind to were the many suggestions to raise taxes or curb Social Security.

But the rest, he said, were “a lot of very fertile ideas.”

Some were more fertile than others.

A suggestion for the government home shopping network to sell seized assets, for instance, is supported by 81 percent of Americans, Hall said. The most popular reason, according to Hall’s report: “It gets rid of stuff we don’t need and it’s making money.”

The same number endorsed the national garage sale. Selling 10 percent of the government’s nonessential, non-recreational assets would not only balance the budget, it would pay off most of the nation’s $4.5 trillion debt. Among the reasons people liked the idea: “Can finally make money on all the junk they have.”

The most popular idea is one to freeze all government spending at current levels, except for a 2 percent annual increase in Social Security and Medicare to cover people entering the programs for the first time. The freeze, Hall said, would balance the budget in two years. But it would mean smaller than expected increases in Social Security benefits and therefore is unacceptable to Republicans.

Another popular idea, favored by 65 percent, is to put a giant scoreboard in the front of the House and Senate chambers, constantly displaying the federal deficit and the effect pending legislation would have on it. On the plus side, 73 percent said the scoreboard would hit “Congress between the eyes.” However, 69 percent also said, “Congress won’t show the right numbers.”

Other ideas were not as popular.

To the relief of senators and their aides, only 17 percent of those polled favor abolishing the Senate.


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