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Hate Obamacare? Keep Tax Cuts? You Do the Budget

With all this “fiscal cliff” talk about the US economy plunging when tax cuts expire and government spending cuts hit early next year, it’s easy to second-guess the presidential candidates about their plans.

Adam Taylor | Riser | Getty Images

That will never work! We’re headed for a cliff!you shout from your living room, spilling a little beer on your armchair amid the hoopla of your enthusiastic critique.

Well, arm-chair politicians, it’s time to put the beer down and see if you can do better than President Obama, Mitt Romney and the other candidates.

The nonpartisan group Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has come up with a “Stabilize the U.S. Debt” game to give anyone the chance to Step Right Up! – like a game at a carnival — and try their hand at stabilizing the debt.

Don’t like Obamacare? Not a fan of the Buffett tax? Afraid of the politicians we put in charge of “the button” for nuclear warfare? Well now, step aside President Obama . And Mitt Romney . It’s your turn to decide what funding stays and what gets cut.

"It gives citizens a chance to see the kind of choices that will be necessary to fix the budget problems we face," Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "It's really hard to do — getting the debt down to a manageable level!"

Plus, it gives members of Congress the chance to see what cuts voters are willing to make, she added.

And before you go thinking there’s some political agenda here, the game’s creators are former government fiscal policy experts — they worked on Capitol Hill, think tanks, Wall Street and universities — but they’re nonpartisan.

At the moment, the U.S. debt is 67 percent of GDP and is projected to rise to over 77 percent of GDPby 2017, according to the Office of Management and Budget and 91 percent of GDP by 2025, according to the CRFB.

The idea isn’t for you to ELIMINATE the debt — let’s not start crazy-talking — but rather to reduce it to the internationally recognized standard of 60 percent.

So, your mission, should you choose to get off the couch and accept it, is to wrangle $1.6 trillion in cuts from the budget to hit that 60-percent mark by 2021.

Think you’ve got the political chops to get the job done?

Let me walk you through it.

The first step is to establish three key policy positions: whether to reduce or maintain current troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether to renew recent tax cuts or allow them to expire and whether to cut or increase Medicare physician payments, which would alter the sustainable growth rate.

If you are already daunted by not knowing what the sustainable growth rate is, don’t give up yet — they have information buttons all along the way, for every item and every answer, to help you make informed choices.

Next, you have to make decisions on expanding or cutting the Joint Strike Fighter program (for developing a new stealth aircraft), foreign aid, veteran benefits, the nuclear arsenal, the Navy Fleet, Homeland Security Spending and troop levels.

Next, you have to tackle domestic social and economic spending, including decisions on NASA, the JOBS bill, highway funding, food stamps and school funding.

(Whew! It’s a lot easier being an armchair critic, amiright?!)

Next, Social Security. Do you want to raise the normal retirement age to 68? No one likes the idea of waiting longer but it would collectively save $160 billion. Plus, decisions on gauges for determining benefits, spousal benefits and government worker benefits.

Health care!

Yeah, you were waiting for this one, right?

You ge

Source: crfb.org

t to decide whether or not you would repeal Obamacare or parts of it, which could potentially save $330 billion. Plus, decisions on Medicare premiums, medical malpractice reform and Medicaid funding to states.

You also have to make decisions on spending that falls in the “other” category like farm subsidies, research and development and mass transit.

And then there are taxes — or, as the government calls it, revenue. Do you want to raise the tax rates on capital gains?

In the end, the program will show you how well you did — how long it would take you to get the debt to 60 percent of GDP and a bar graph of where your savings came from with a message like, “Nice Try. You reduced the debt to 60 percent of GDP — but not until 2022. Hopefully, you will have done enough to avert a fiscal crisis.” Plus, a tally of how much you saved compared to the current administration.

For the record, since the game’s debut in 2010, more than a quarter of a million people have played the game and 80 percent successfully stabilized the debt at 60 percent by the end of the decade. And, some things did fall along party lines: 71 percent of Democrats supported raising the retirement age while 82 percent of Republicans supported letting some of the tax cuts expire. Read more about the results.

If you’re the competitive type, the median result from those who played the game and voluntarily submitted their results for analysis (about 8,000 people) was debt at 48 percent of GDP by 2021.

The most popular policy choices were eliminate outdated programs (88 percent), cut earmarks in half (82 percent), decrease troop levels (81 percent), include all new state and local workers in Social Security (77 percent), reduce ship building (75 percent) and raise the national retirement age to 68 (74 percent). Read more popular policy choices.

It will make you reflect on who you are and what kind of choices you make: Are you a ruthless cost-cutter or a big softie who “hopefully will have done enough to avert a fiscal crisis?” Would you, if elected, really thoroughly understand each policy choice — or would your attention span wane after 15 minutes, leaving you to “skim through” policies that affect millions of people’s lives like it’s a game of Chutes & Ladders ? More importantly, are your politicians right now skimming through these policies, checking boxes without really thinking of how they affect you and millions of others?

Suddenly, your armchair with a beer sounds like a pretty good place to be!

Anyone know of a good place to buy a mini-fridge?!

Click here to play the game.

More From the Pony Blog:

Contact Pony Blog

  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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