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Get the Picture: Visual Budget Tool & New iPhone App

by Francie Grace

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Keeping score on the federal budget is more complicated than it needs to be. Take today's official report on the status of the Medicare and Social Security programs. There's positive news, in that Medicare's financial situation is projected to improve as a result of the new health care plan. There's slightly worse short-term news for Social Security. And there's continuing bad news, in that the long-term outlook of both programs remains troubling.

Understanding the relationship between the federal budget and government policy is difficult even for full-time budget wonks, and for the rest of us, it's almost impossible. The biggest problem isn't that we can't get to the right information, it's just that the information isn't easy to use, and we have a hard time visualizing the context of budget decisions.

Solutions are, however, at hand. Choosing Our Fiscal Future has rolled out a new iPhone app, which delivers news, tweets, video and more about the national debt crisis. And now has the U.S. Visual Budget tool, a web-based application which helps the numbers make sense. With this application you can:

  • Compare aspects of the budget to one another from branches of government to functions like energy or international affairs

  • Examine changes over time right now, going back to the Kennedy administration, but soon we'll be able to take you all the way back to George Washington

  • See what spending decisions were made in what sort of political climate by House, Senate, or Presidential party

  • See numbers in real dollars, in nominal dollars, or as a percentage of GDP, and print any chart that you create for use elsewhere

Try out the Visual Budget Tool at, start thinking about our options, and let us know what you think: it's all of our futures that are at stake.

Choosing Our Fiscal Future is a partnership between Public Agenda and the National Academy of Public Administration, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


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