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Park City Project of Deeper Understanding to hold discourse about national debt

When St. Luke’s Episcopal Church’s Reverend Charles Robinson established the Park City Project of Deeper Understanding in 2005 with Patty Wood, who was then the pastor of the Unity Spiritual Center, he wanted to tackle big issues with one civilized discussion at a time.

Topics have included fossil fuels, immigration, affordable housing, Islam and Christianity and the free market versus the government.

After a summer sabbatical, Robinson, with the help of coordinator Mike Andrews, is reviving the project, which will kick off on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

The topic will be about the United States deficit crisis.

The free event will take place at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 4595 Silver Springs Rd., on Tuesday, Sept. 18, from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Panelists will include Summit County Republicans Chairman Henry Glasheen, Summit County Democratic Party Chairman Glenn Wright, former Utah State Republican Senator Dan Liljenquist and the Utah House of Representatives Assistant Minority Whip Brian King, a Democrat.

Robinson recruited Andrews to coordinate and mediate the discussion.

"I was a church one Sunday when Father Charles stopped me on the way out and said he needed some help," Andrews said. "I taught high school for 20 years and within that period, I taught economics. I have a minor in economics and I’ve had a lifelong interest in politics and economics."

Andrews said just holding an open discussion about the country’s debt would be troublesome without some kind of context, so he looked to the Simpson-Bowles Commission Report of 2010.

The report, which was conducted by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, in order to "improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run," according to Andrews.

The 66-page report was released in the winter of 2010 and contained the following recommendations and proposals.

  • A $200 billion-a-year reduction in discretionary spending that includes cuts in defense procurement by 15 percent and closing 1/3 of the overseas military bases and cutting the federal work force by 10 percent.
  • $100 billion in increased tax revenues through various reform proposals including a 15-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax and restricting tax deductions as the home mortgage-interest deductions and deductions for employer-provided healthcare benefits.
  • Controlling healthcare costs by maintaining Medicare cost controls with the new healthcare legislation.
  • Reducing entitlements that come with farm subsidies, civilian and military federal pensions and student loans subsidies.
  • Modifying the Social Security Program by raising the payroll tax and retirement age.

    Although the report failed to garner enough votes to be implemented, Andrews said it was a good instrument to use for sake of the discussion.

    "We are going to ask our panel if the report can be a basis for a bi-partisan approach to the debt/deficit crisis in 2013," he said. "We want the panel to focus on their priorities, and where they stand regarding these five areas. We know the answers to these issues are dependent on where their priorities lay. Regardless, there are many oxen that need to be gored."

    While Andrews knows the discussion is likely to become lively, organizers want to avoid finger-pointing politics as much as possible.

    "We’re realistic to know that, given the time of year and the state of the presidential race, it will be very hard to keep politics 100 percent out of the discussion, because the two basic approaches are political and the parties are, of course, on opposite sides," Andrews said. "Nonetheless, what we’re hoping to have on Sept. 18, is not a political debate, but an insightful discussion about economics and the realities of debt and deficit."

    During the discussion, Andrews will allow 45 minutes for an audience/panel interaction, which will include questions and answers.

    "I’ll do my best to mediate the discussion," he said.

    Andrews is looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say, because, he said, there is an imminent need to find some sort of solution before the new year.

    "The so-called fiscal cliff of Jan. 1, 2013, is facing the country regardless of the election outcome," Andrews said. "On that date, if there is no agreement about reducing the deficit between now and then, there will be draconian cuts that will go in effect, which will affect everyone. At some point there will have to be a meeting of minds."

    Although the Park City Project for Deeper Understanding will not solve the problem, Andrews hopes it will open people’s eyes to the debt crisis, no matter which side they stand on.

    "As we said before, we are going to try to keep politics out of the discussion, because we want to focus on the issue of getting people to understand how big the debt is; how frightening it is and what needs to happen," he said.

    Robinson said he likes to think of the project’s mottos as "More light than heat."

    "Democracy presumes an educated electorate that is in dialogue with each other in trying to solve common problems," he said. "It’s human nature to surround ourselves with people who agree with us, and as validating and emotionally satisfying as that may be in the short run, it’s not good for our democracy and not educational.

    "Education is about being exposed to new ideas or to have your current way of thinking challenged," he said. "If I surround myself with only people who agree with me, then I impoverish my own intellectual life. If you take the whole country into account, you put our democracy at risk."

    The Park City’s Project for Deeper Understanding will present a discussion, "The U.S. Debt and Deficit: Crisis and Opportunity" at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 4595 Silver Springs Rd., on Tuesday, Sept. 18, from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. Admission is free.


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