Content Tagged: budget

Political Rhetoric

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February 13, 2015

I found a recent post by Princeton economist and NY Times blogger Paul Krugman a fascinating look at, essentially, political rhetoric.  Although Krugman’s focus is on individuals, most specifically Paul Ryan (R-WI), due to Ryan’s ties to the federal budget, it’s a terrific tie to UFR Lesson 2.5 on Rhetoric.

The essential dilemma for Lesson 2.5 is Is it convincing facts or effective rhetoric that determines what the public thinks about the debt and the deficit?  Krugman brings up the question – why do we judge politicians by how they come across in the mass media?

Have students read the blog post by Krugman and compare it to the lessons they learn in the UFR lesson on rhetoric.  How does Krugman define rhetoric in his blog post?  What examples does he give?  How does this relate to the federal budget?  What is the “personality cult” of Paul Ryan, and how does Krugman use it to make his point?


Repealing the Affordable Care Act?

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February 4, 2015

The House of Representatives voted this week to repeal the Affordable Care Act (the first this Congressional term, but the 56th attempt overall), although House Republicans admit that they do not have a viable alternative.  The law remains divided on partisan terms, with most Republicans in the House voting for repeal, and all Democrats voting against.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released an analysis of the Republican alternative to the ACA, citing millions of people losing their current health care coverage, and actually increase the number of people who could not afford health care, falling into the category of “uninsured”.  They also state that the decrease in state aid Medicare would increase the number of underinsured.

I bring this back again to the basic lesson on Medicare, funding, and the national debt, and also to the UFR lesson on rhetoric.  Encourage students to read through media reports on the Affordable Care Act – even something as simple as asking why one “side” tends to use the term “Obamacare” could bring great discussion on rhetoric and political uses of words.


Modern Monetary Theory

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January 12, 2015

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw posted a link to the Vox blog regarding Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and his potential quest for the presidency in 2016.  He has hired as his lead economist UM-Kansas City economist Stephanie Kelton, who is a huge proponent of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), a left-leaning economic theory that rather goes against traditional economics.

MMT in part states that having budget surpluses – and in some cases, a balanced budget – is harmful to the economy because money is not being used by consumers.  If there is less cash in the hands of consumers, they are buying less, which means productivity drops along with the decrease in demand, which leads to higher unemployment and increases the chance for a recession.

I found this a fascinating article, and kind of brainstormed with myself about a few different things.  First, if Bernie Sanders were to become president, we could see a new realm of economic theory at the national level.  Second, how interesting to bring this into the classroom!  Students of economics have learned for years typical Keynesian or Neo-Keynesian economic theory, outlining what the federal government “needs” to do in order to maintain the proper balance of unemployment and inflation.  This would show a differing opinion, which always makes for excellent teaching.

Take students through the UFR Lesson 1.5 on Balancing the Federal Budget.  Then, students could research differing opinions such as Modern Monetary Theory.  Encourage them to determine which makes the most sense to them, and explain why they think it would work in our modern economy.



Infographics from the Congressional Budget Office

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April 22, 2014

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released a series of infographics regarding federal spending.  I love using infographics in the classroom – artists who do them correctly have a gift for getting a LOT of information into a very small space, and students tend to love them.  It can be a great way for students to “get” a really difficult subject.

The Federal Budget in 2013 has a variety of information regarding federal spending last year.  Students could analyze spending versus revenue from the graphic rather than the long text of the actual federal budget document.  They could conduct independent research on what “other” is in both areas – after all, $467 billion dollars was spent on “other” last year!  Students could make their own infographics from information they find, or could make an infographic regarding “what is $467 billion?”.  This infographic also shows the federal deficits and debt since 1974, and gives concise definitions of terms.

A second infographic takes a closer look at 2013 revenues.  It outlines dollar amounts, but also shows revenue trends since the early 1990’s, as well as a great view of where revenues come from.

The third infographic zooms in on mandatory spending.   Each of the graphics has a bar graph in the top right corner that emphasizes what the specific infographic is about.  It could help students understand how much of the federal budget is mandatory spending and exactly what that means.  This one shows what money was spent on in the 2013 budget, and compares it to 1993  numbers.

Finally, there’s an infographic on discretionary spending.  It looks at trends over time but focuses primarily on defense spending.  What’s really helpful for the classroom with this one is that it breaks down defense spending, so the student who says “just cut defense” as a proposal to balance the budget can see exactly what would need to be cut.



House passes Ryan’s budget

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April 11, 2014

Representative Paul Ryan’s proposed federal budget passed the House with a narrow margin of 215 to 209, after a week of attempted Democratic alternatives.

A question has arisen, though, of whether the passing of Ryan’s proposed budget is even necessary.  Many in Congress say that the Murray-Ryan bill passed last year supercedes a new budget plan, and stays in place for another year.  Many are seeing Ryan’s budget as more of a political stance, declaring Republican ideals, rather than a plan for a national budget.

Some coverage by the National Journal, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal (blog) and The Washington Post (blog) can help give students background information and an all-important look at how different media outlets report news.

On the House website, Ryan outlines his “Path to Prosperity” budget and uses the following graph to make his point in support of a balanced budget:  thumbnail

I found this graph to be a great tie to the UFR Lesson 5.4 on Numeracy and graphical representations.  You could take students through the numeracy lesson, but tie in the above graph and information found in current news outlets to give students a “big picture” view of Ryan’s proposed budget.  What does he want to happen, and how does he see it happening?

A great focusing question for students to consider is:  Is this economics, or is this politics?  There’s no right or wrong answer – have students look at the media information from multiple sources and analyze the data for information to support their argument.  Add in information from UFR Lesson 2.2 on Political Beliefs and the Federal Budget to help students understand where partisan politics falls – and has fallen in the past – into discussions on the national budget.  Or, you could pull the class discussion around to UFR Lesson 2.5 on Political Rhetoric.



Economic Report of the President 2014

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March 11, 2014

Yesterday, the White House released the annual Economic Report of the President.  The 415-page report outlines an optimistic view of the U.S. economy for 2014-15, including a 3.1% increase in growth overall and a mild decrease in unemployment.  Why is this important for fiscal responsibility?  Well, it is based off of the estimates for the 2015 federal budget, released last week.

How are news sources reacting?  Have students take a look at Bloomberg Businessweek and compare it to PBS NewsHour.  What differences can be seen in the way different media outlets are covering the story? How is that different from the White House blog?

Students could use the outlined chapters on the White House blog to get a good idea of the content and intent of the report to look for priorities in the federal budget, tied to UFR Lesson 1.5 on balancing the budget.




CBO weighs in on Minimum Wage

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February 18, 2014

Last week, President Obama expressed his support for a bill that would raise the minimum wage for companies with federal contracts, as he called for in his State of the Union address last month.  Not that I’m overly obsessed with the Congressional Budget Office, but they have posted an analysis of the Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on Employment and Family Income (Feb 18).


The CBO states that there are two main effects:  (1) some workers would be raised out of the federal poverty threshold, and (2) some jobs for low-wage workers would be eliminated.  However, when taking all increases and decreases into account, they estimate overall real income would rise by $2 billion.

However, the effect on the federal budget is what is really interesting in terms of applying UFR principles and concepts.  The wages that the federal government would have to pay to select hourly employees would increase, and at this moment, that cost would be absorbed into discretionary appropriations, which are capped right now by current law.  And, of course, there would be changes in collected federal income tax with the changes in real income (increases for some, decreases for others).

Tying this to UFR Lesson 1.4 on Taxation and the National Debt as well as Lesson 1.5 on Balancing the Federal Budget is a good way for students to gain clear understanding on how decisions are made at the federal level and what trade offs are required.  However, what about using this ongoing debate on minimum wage, income inequality, and “the 1%”  to look more closely at political rhetoric (Lesson 2.5)?  How much of what we see is rhetoric, and how much is fact?  How do we determine the difference, and how in the world do we teach that to students?


Remember also that Rob posted a UFR blog post on Jan 29 entitled “Minimum Wage as Minimal Government Intervention?


Priorities in National Spending

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January 14, 2014

The Senate is closer to coming to an agreement on the extension of unemployment benefit insurance.  According to the Chicago Tribune, nine Republican senators may break off from party lines to vote with Democrats to enable passage.   The proposal would extend unemployment for three months, with zero end affect on the budget with cuts elsewhere.  Although not popular with Senate Democrats or the President, it is the closest they have gotten to an agreement since the end of 2013, when benefits expired.

At the same time, Congress reached an agreement last night on a spending package to avoid another government shut down. The bill would provide funding for the national government through the fiscal year (Sept 30), with only a few things falling by the wayside.

The timing of these two events offers a great chance for discussion in the classroom on priorities in spending.  Why, potentially, would the budget agreement be voted on, but not unemployment benefits?  What political thought is seen behind either agreement?  What does it show about spending priorities – or does it really not show spending priorities at all?

There are three potential ties to the UFR curriculum, depending on where you are in the semester.  First, Balancing the Federal Budget 1.5 is a great way to bring up that question of priorities.  What are the trade-offs for the bill to avoid a federal shut-down?  What trade-offs do students witness with a potential unemployment benefit agreement?

Also, in the Civics portion of the curriculum, a view of Political Beliefs and Federal Budget (2.4) could be very helpful to help students understand how these agreements are made.  What real differences of opinion are we seeing in these agreements?  Put students in the role of a Democrat or Republican, and ask them to spend a little time researching either the potential budget agreement or the possible unemployment benefits agreement from their role’s point of view.

Or, is it all just rhetoric?  Civics lesson 2.5 offers the chance for students to learn about rhetoric – what is it, and how can we know what it is when we see it?

Finally, as always, some new political cartoons.  Remember that the October 13 blog has an outline to analyze political cartoons – or, take a look at what the Library of Congress suggests!


David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Star, 2014


Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch, 2014


Kevin Siers, The Charlotte Observer, 2014


John Cole, The Times-Tribune, 2014


The Unemployment Dilemma

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January 7, 2014

Although the recession officially ended, the United States is faced with unemployment rates that are still seen as “too high” – and still have a large number of people receiving unemployment benefits.  Many of those benefits ran out at the end of 2013, and Congress and the President have been haggling ever since on what to do.

With the agreement of the Senate today to extend long term unemployment benefits, it could be another great opportunity to bring to your students the idea of balancing the budgets and policy priorities.  The full Congress still must approve, but President Obama has put his full support behind passing the bill.

UFR Lesson 1.5 is on Balancing the Federal Budget, but focusing in on Activity 3 would bring your students into the world of balancing the budget in the short term.  Have students analyze the political cartoon at the beginning of Activity 3, and compare them to the cartoons below.  What kind of policy priorities are being shown by Congress’ activity?

A few other resources:

Bill Day, 2013


Jimmy Marguiles, 2013




More Murray-Ryan Budget Cartoons

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January 3, 2014


In the last couple of weeks, there has been a huge increase in the number of political cartoons poking at the Murray-Ryan Budget Plan.  The October 13 blog shows some great ways to bring political cartoons to students with authentic, critical analysis.

Use the Mini-Lesson on Federal Budget Basics in the UFR Economics Lesson 1.5 to help out on basic vocabulary on the federal budget and what it means to balance a budget – or if that’s even desired.


R.J. Matson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2013


Steve Breen, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2013



Joe Heller, Green Bay Press-Gazette, 2013


Michael Ramirez, Investors Business Daily, 2013



Gary Varvel, Indianapolis Star, 2013