A deficit evangelist brings her message to Boise (w/AUDIO)

Listen for yourself: Here's the audio from our editorial board meeting with Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget; and Sen. Mike Crapo.

An evangelist on the federal budget crisis, Maya MacGuineas is part pessimist, part optimist.

For the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, pessimism comes with the job. She believes, as do others, that the federal government is peering over the ledge of a fiscal cliff. And she fears that, when leadership is most needed, Congress may punt once again.

So what gives her cause for optimism? She believes that the deficit is finally, and no longer, an “ugly stepchild” issue, as the 2012 election looms.

“We will have a discussion now, and I think it is a tremendous opportunity,” MacGuineas said Monday.
MacGuineas was in Boise for a forum at the Statehouse, the first stop in her group’s “Fix the Debt” tour. Before that, she joined Sen. Mike Crapo for an interview with the Statesman editorial board.

Editorial boards make a great habitat for talking budgets; in fact, MacGuineas’ resume includes a 2009 term on the Washington Post’s editorial board. I’m self-aware enough to recognize that pundits and think tank folks love to talk about Big Issues such as the deficit; this condition doesn’t make us better people, just wonkier people.

The good fight for MacGuineas is to take this discussion to the people. For voters, the 2012 election will be a referendum on jobs: jobs held, or sought, by those closest to them. By hammering away on the unemployment rate, Republicans will do their best to make this a jobs election.

McGuineas says, rightly, that the job market is “incredibly connected” to the deficit and the uncertain state of the budget. “It’s clearly affecting economic growth already.”

CEOs get this connection, she said, and are among of her group’s most vocal allies. They see the fiscal crisis affecting their bottom line. But, she says, there is still work to be done in helping families see this connection.

MacGuineas, a political independent, is heartened by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s presence on the GOP ticket. “Most issues try to get on the agenda. We’re on the agenda.”

I remain skeptical about the Ryan effect; as I wrote last week, running mates don’t usually drive the presidential storyline. And the storyline is hostage to what I call (this week, at least) the Todd Akin Effect. All it takes is one politician, one ludicrous comment, to steer the 24/7 discussion in an entirely different direction.

MacGuineas isn’t deterred, and the “Fix the Debt” campaign is ready to deliver the message on several fronts: legislative lobbying; touring the states; CEO outreach; building partnerships; social media; traditional media and branding. It will take every tool, and an evangelist’s drive, to get the budget the attention it deserves.

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