A couple months ago I discovered the Budget Hero game from American Public Media and thought it would be great if we made McCain and Obama play it. Then we could see how they really stack up. Now we’ve got something close! Each candidate provided the game’s creators with the costs or benefits of some of their proposals, which are now included in the game. You can play it to see how your views stack up against theirs.

How the Game Works
The game first lets you choose three “badges,” which are platforms you try to work toward. The badges cover broad issues like Health and Wellness or National Security. Now they’ve added one badge for Obama and one badge for McCain.

Once you choose your badges, you get to play a series of cards in different categories. Although you can’t make sweeping changes, you can increase or decrease spending on a variety of programs. Once you’re done with spending, you can then increase or decrease taxes. If you double-click a card, it shows you the pros and cons for each card.

The game starts with a 2018 budget. As you play, it tells how you much longer it will be until you “bust the budget,” meaning expenses outpace revenues. It also tells you the level of national debt, the interest on that debt, the size of the government, and the amount of the budget surplus or deficit.

My Original Scores
The first time I played the game, I got the budget to 2055, shrank the government, created a $4 billion surplus, and lowered the debt to 20% of GDP. Then I read a few of the card descriptions and discovered they weren’t what I thought I was. That cut my budget to 2047, but kept the surplus and debt the same. I earned badges for Health & Wellness, Green, and Efficient Government.

Obama vs. McCain
I wish the game would show you all the cards associated with each candidate, but it doesn’t. The Obama campaign provided more information, so there are more cards associated with his policies in the game than there are for McCain. To choose the cards I played for each candidate, I visited their websites to review their policies. Where I couldn’t find information, I Googled it until I found a few statements that seemed to be in agreement and went with that.

First I chose the Obama badge. There were a lot of spending increases, but also some big tax changes. I earned Obama’s badge with a 2036 budget bust, a smaller surplus, and a higher debt than my original scores. The size of the government remained about the same.

Next I started over with the McCain badge. On my first pass, I couldn’t earn his badge, so I went back and added more tax cuts and a couple more spending cuts to earn it. Unfortunately, McCain’s badge also busted the budget in 2033, raised the debt to more than 40% of GDP, massively increased the size of the government, and blew the surplus.

How to Use the Game to Choose a Candidate
You can take two approaches to playing the game: review each candidate’s policies and then choose the cards you think he would play to see where he winds up (like I did above), or choose both badges and then play the cards the way you think they should be played. At the end, see if you earned either badge. If you did, that’s your candidate. If you didn’t, go back and tweak until you find a match.

Is the Game Perfect?
No, it’s not. Both candidates would make changes that aren’t in the game, or do things a little differently. Since Obama provided more information, the game may also be more skewed toward his programs. Still, it’s a good way to see not only where you stand on spending issues, but how closely aligned you are with either candidate. You may even find that both of them agree with you on some issues.

Have you played the game? How did you do?

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