Political Exchange

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

Day Five

Discussion Questions & Links

Discussion Questions & Links

1. The measure of any political debate is not whether any of the participants have converted either of his or her opponents, but whether their exchanges have had an impact on the audience. That impact can take a variety of forms, from strengthening your own position on the balanced budget amendment to giving you new insights into the issues surrounding the BBA, to converting you to a position quite different from the one you began with. Considering your own position on the BBA before you read this 5-day exchange, what impact has the discussion had on you?

2. In addressing each other's points during the exchange, the participants may have missed some important issues about the BBA. After reviewing the exchanges presented over the five days, think about what was not discussed. What issues or questions would you ask the participants to address if they had another week to debate each other?

3. If you were a member of the U.S. Senate who was (to borrow from Governor Lamm) as indecisive as Hamlet up to this moment of casting your vote for or against the BBA, what would your final decision be - yea or nay? Having determined your answer, what were the facts or factors that determined your vote on the BBA?

4. All three participants have talked to the issue of the burden being assessed on future generations by the mounting federal debt. At least two extreme images emerge: the specter of a debt so large that it will bankrupt our children and their children and the contrasting image of manageable debt that may even enhance the wealth of future generations. Which (if either) of the two positions seems more convincing to you? If neither, what is the picture of the future you've developed from following these discussions.

5. Do you trust your government to do the right thing? Karen Paget assumes an optimistic position on that question, particularly when it comes to Social Security and Medicare. Richard Lamm is more explicitly pessimistic on trusting politicians Which position do you feel is more appropriate?

6. Lamm and Paget take different positions on the consequences of the "discipline" that a balanced budget amendment would force on policy makers. For Lamm, such giving the Congress and White House the constitutional "backbone" to stop the spending spree and to make difficult choices is a critical and positive outcome. For Paget, such a situation would be as problematic as it was politically contrived. Is the problem facing Washington policy-makers one of "backbone" and lack of discipline? Would it be helpful or counter-productive to force federal policy-makers to make hard choices?

7. Tim Penny argues against a proposed change in the amendment now before the Senate that, if added, might assure its passage. Just last week, advocates of a term limits amendment were criticized for being too inflexible in what they were willing to accept. Is Tim Penny in the same situation? Given his arguments against the Social Security exemption, should he support it in order to get some form of BBA passed on to the House? Or are the provisions of something as important as a constitutional amendment not subject to that kind of compromise?

8. In part, the debate over the balanced budget amendment is driven by opposing images of of today's politicians. Karen Paget points to the relative success at deficit reduction strategies in recent years, arguing that the discipline mandated by a constitutional amendment is just not necessary. Richard Lamm, in contrast, is less sanguine about the ability of policy-makers to do what has to be done. Why has such different images emerged in recent years? Which of these images of policy-makers seem closer to reality in Washington today? Are there other policy issues where these contrasting images of government decision-makers play an important role?

9. Tim Penny is less concerned than Karen Paget about the future of safety net programs if a balanced budget amendment passes. For some members of Congress, it is the future of these programs that is key to their decision on whether to support the BBA. Some would like to see exemptions for those programs built into the proposed amendment, while others (like Tim Penny) believe that is not necessary. Should such exemptions be built into a BBA? Or should we rely on the popularity of those programs to sustain them from year to year if a balanced budget amendment was in place?

10. Tim Penny and Richard Lamm raise the "generational equity" issue as a fundamental premise for their positions. In her reference to families borrowing money to pay their children's tuition, Karen Paget implies that these concerns for generational equity ignore the fact that some debt may actually benefit the next generation and their progeny. Does each generation have a responsibility to consider the burdens it is imposing on their posterity? If so, how much weight should questions of generational equity be given in questions of public policy?

11. Governor Lamm points out policy-makers don't have the luxury of taking a middle road on issues like the balanced budget amendment, and yet there is much to be said for the arguments on both sides. In his case, he decides that the pluses outweigh the minuses on the amendment -- and as a result he ends up supporting what he regards as a "bad idea." Are there other issues where such hard choices must be made? Are such situations inherent in the issues themselves, or are they the result of how the American political system operates?

12. Policy debates are often filled with analogies and metaphors that help the target audience relate to the complex issues being discussed. Karen Paget focuses on two analogies used by supporters of the balanced budget amendment. Can you think of any additional analogies related to this particular debate? Can you think of examples of analogies being used in policy debates on other issues, e.g., the environment, abortion, social security financing? Do you think these analogies help or distort the public's understanding of important policy issues?

Related Links

  • The Balanced Budget Amendment
  • The Public Debt To The Penny
  • Department of Commerce Budget Guide
  • Twentieth Century Fund's Issue Guide
  • U.C.-Berkeley National Budget Simulation


  • GOP Contract With America
  • Concord Coalition
  • Heritage Foundation
  • Americans Back In Charge
  • Town Hall
  • National Taxpayers Union


  • Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
  • Common Cause
  • Coalition For Budget Integrity
  • Electronic Policy Network Briefing Book
  • Economic Policy Institute
  • Jeromy Levy Economics Institute