Policymaking Simulations

Policymaking Simulations put citizens in their elected officials’ shoes by simulating the process they go through in making policy decisions – getting briefed, hearing arguments, coming to decisions – using an online instrument called a “policymaking simulation.” VOP has worked with the Program for Public Consultation to develop simulations on the following issues, give one a try. At the end of each simulation, please take the opportunity to email your members of Congress and make your voice heard.


Discretionary Budget and General Revenues

In this simulation you will be introduced to the Federal budget overall, get some background on the federal budget deficit, and evaluate arguments about what the priorities should be in regard to the federal budget.  

You will then be presented the discretionary budget–this is the part of the budget that Congress sets every years–broken into 31 line items (e.g. transportation, education, defense etc.) and will have an opportunity to raise and lower each one as you see fit.  As you go along you will get immediate feedback about the impact of your changes on the budget deficit.

You will then assess arguments about what priorities should be for federal taxes.  Then you will get the opportunity to set tax rates for all of the major taxes including income taxes (you will see what they and can set what you think they should be for each income level) corporate taxes, capital gains and more.  You will also get to evaluate newly proposed taxes such as a tax on financial transactions or on carbon dioxide. One again, as you go along you will be able to immediately see the effect of your choices on the deficit.

Tax Reform Proposals

This simulation gives you the opportunity to evaluate some of the proposals in the recent legislation (that did pass) to reform taxes.  Some of these overlap with the Revenue section in the Federal Budget simulation, but in this case you will evaluate the arguments surrounding this proposed legislation.

Reducing Tax Revenue

Whether to reduce the overall tax revenues by $1.5 trillion over the next decade

Income Taxes on the Wealthy

Whether to lower or increase income taxes for high-income individuals

Income Taxes on the Middle-Class

Whether to lower income taxes on the middle class

Deducting State and Local Taxes

Whether to eliminate state and local tax deductions on individual federal income taxes, including property taxes

Mortgage Deduction

Whether to lowering the home mortgage deduction cap

Reducing and then Eliminating the Estate Tax

Whether to reduce, then eliminate, the estate tax in six years and in the meantime double the amount that can be transferred tax free

Corporate Tax Rates

Whether to lower the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%

Territorial Tax

Whether to eliminate he US corporate income tax on profits made by their subsidiaries in other countries

Pass-Through Businesses

Whether to lower the tax on ‘pass-through’ business owners  [xx not sure this describes correctly]

Immediate Expensing

Whether to allow businesses to deduct the full amount of their investments (other than buildings) for the next five years in the same year they make the investment, rather than spreading it out over a number of years

Defense Budget

In this simulation you have the opportunity to make up own national defense spending budget.  You can do it in parts, though we recommend you do it as whole in which case you will get ongoing feedback on how your overall budget compares with the current national defense budget.

First you will evaluate the size of the defense budget overall, comparing it to other parts of the budget, defense spending budgets over the last 50 years, and the amount of defense spending as compared to potential enemies and allies.  You can then set your proposed overall level as a benchmark when considering the various sections of the defense budget.

You will then get a briefing on the various part of the defense budget and evaluate arguments for why it should be increased or decreased.  These include:

  • Air Power
  • Ground Forces
  • Naval Forces
  • Nuclear Weapons
  • Missile Defense
  • Marine Corps
  • Special Operations Forces

Evaluating Specific Weapons Systems

Here you can get briefed on current controversies issues related to specific weapon systems and make your recommendations.  

  • Whether to cancel and replace the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
  • Whether to begin development of a new long-range stealth bomber called “Next Generation” to replace the B-2
  • Whether to reduce the number of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers from 11 to 10,
  • Whether to reduce cue the Navy’s planned fleet of new nuclear strike submarines from 12 to 8

Operations in Afghanistan

You can learn about and weigh in on the key question being considered:

  • Whether to maintain the operation at a reduced level or withdraw nearly all troops and shut down combat bases

Social Security Reform

As you may know the government projects that unless the Social Security shortfall is addressed by either reducing benefits or raising revenues there will be an across-the-board reduction in Social Security benefits.  You will have the opportunity to consider options for reducing the shortfall as well as consider options for raising benefits for some populations and also changing the way that cost of living adjustments are made. We recommend doing the fill simulation as you will get immediate feedback about the effect of all you recommendations on the Social Security shortfall.  

Addressing the Social Security Shortfall

  • Whether to lowering monthly benefits for top earners
  • Whether to raising the retirement age
  • Whether to raise or eliminate the cap on income subject to the payroll tax
  • Whether to raise the payroll tax rate

Raising Benefits for Specific Populations

  • Whether to raise the minimum benefit for those who have worked 30 years
  • Whether to raise the benefits for the very old

Recalculating Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA)

  • Whether to base COLAs on general consumer buying behavior (or “Chained CPI”), which would slow the rate of increase, or on what the elderly tend to buy, which would quicken the rate of increase

Medicare Reform

Medicare is a major part of all Federal spending and it projected that in the near term there will be a shortfall, so that unless something is done benefits will have to be cut.  All of the policy options assessed are from bills that seek to address the Medicare shortfall. You can go through the whole process and get interactive feedback on how much you have reduced the Medicare shortfall or you can just zero in on a few options that interest you.


  • Whether to encourage the use of generic drugs
  • Whether to increase outpatient deductibles
  • Whether to raise eligibilty age
  • Whether to reduce payments to drug companies

Campaign Finance Reform

Evaluate arguments and offer your recommendations on proposals related to the following topics surrounding Campaign Finance Reform. Each survey takes between 3-5 minutes to complete.

Offshore Drilling

This survey evaluates pro and con arguments for a new proposal to allow drilling in offshore areas that have been previously banned or limited, as well as a proposal to eliminate the requirement that companies hire independent auditors to conduct inspections. It also asks respondents to weigh in on the waivers requested by governors that would keep in place the ban on offshore drilling for their states. Finally, respondents are asked their views on the proposal to renew the tax oil companies payment to a fund to cover the cost to clean up an oil spill when necessary, and raise the amount from 9 cents to 10 cents per barrel.

Solar Panel Tariffs

As you may have heard, there is a debate about whether the U.S. should impose a tariff (like a tax) on solar panels imported from other countries, especially from Asia.

Ground-Level Ozone

In this survey, we’d like your opinions about some current issues regarding Ground-Level Ozone. Ozone is a key factor that creates smog and is harmful to humans. States are currently required to undertake a step-by-step plan for lowering their maximum allowed ozone levels. Get briefed on the pro and con arguments regarding the proposal in Congress to delay this requirement for eight years, and make your final recommendation.

Net Neutrality

The FCC recently voted to reverse a set of existing regulations known as ‘net neutrality.’ Learn the arguments for and against net neutrality and determine whether you favor or oppose the FCC’s plan to reverse the existing regulations.

Independents and Third Party Candidates

As a Federal District Court considers a claim that the Commission on Presidential Debates should eliminate requirements that plaintiffs say effectively excludes a third, unaffiliated candidate from participating in the presidential debates, this simulation gives you an opportunity to weigh in on proposals for making it more possible for a third candidate to participate in the presidential debates and efforts to make it more possible for independent and third party candidates to compete in Congressional elections.

Redistricting By Citizens, Rank-Choice Voting, Multi-Member Districts

Congress is considering a number of bold reforms to change how members of Congress are elected, including redrawing congressional districts by independent citizen commissions, ranked choice voting and multi-member districts. These three reforms comprise new legislation – The Fair Representation Act – sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA.) and cosponsored by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN.), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). In this survey, respondents evaluate pro and con arguments about each of the reforms.

Immigration Reform

In this survey, respondents to evaluate a number of options for changing the US system for legal immigration. The US system for legal immigration provides selected non-US citizens with the right to reside in the United States on a permanent basis by providing them with what is commonly known as a “green card.” This also gives them the right to work and the obligation to pay taxes. As you will see, some people argue that the number of legal immigrants to the US should be reduced, others say the number should be increased. There are also proposals for changing the way that immigrants are selected. In each case, you will be presented information about the proposal, offered arguments in favor of and against the proposal, which you will evaluate how convincing or unconvincing you find them, and then you will be asked to evaluate the proposal.

Alexander-Murray Changes to ACA

This survey presents the three key provisions of the Alexander Murray bill, that addresses issues with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and asks respondents to evaluate arguments for and against each provision. These include reversing the Trump administration cuts for outreach and education for the ACA exchanges, a provision for health-care cost subsidies for low-income people, and a provision for allowing Americans over the age of 30 to obtain lower end ‘copper’ healthcare plans (which is now less relevant since the individual mandate was repealed in the recent tax reform legislation).

Lobbying Restrictions and Former Presidents

This simulation focuses on legislation to extend the waiting period prohibiting for former Members of Congress from lobbying Congress after leaving office. Another set of questions presented a proposal to end the financial support for former US Presidents, as called for in H.R. 2298 sponsored by Rep. Sensenbrenner [R-WI-5]. Currently, former US Presidents get financial support to cover the ongoing costs associated with the activities of being a former president, including office space, staffing and travel.

Addressing the Medicare Shortfall

In the course of doing this simulation, you will learn many interesting things about Medicare so your recommendations about how to address the Medicare shortfall will be well informed. This simulation will take about 25 minutes to complete. Everything you will see has been reviewed by experts and Congressional staffers, both Democrats and Republicans, so you can be assured that it is factual and balanced.

Federal Poverty Programs

Go through our policymaking simulation on federal Poverty programs to learn about the issues, hear pro and con arguments, and then decide which reforms you want Congress to adopt.

Social Security Reform

Go through our policymaking simulation on Social Security Reform to learn about the issue, hear pro and con arguments, and then decide which reforms you want Congress to adopt.

Energy and Environment

One of the challenges we face today is that the way we produce energy has some negative impacts on the environment. In this survey, we would like to introduce some proposals for changing the way energy is produced and used to reduce air pollution and reduce production of greenhouse gases. We will give you some background on these issues, introduce you to both sides of the debate on these proposals, and then give you a chance to make your recommendations.

The Defense Budget

The Program for Public Consultation developed a policymaking simulation that provides a briefing on the defense budget from diverse perspectives, along with arguments for and against cutting spending levels by category. Working online, you can go through this exercise and specify your preferred level in each area, and make your own defense budget.

Postal Service Reform

It may not sound glamorous, but postal reform has serious fiscal implications for the federal government, and is an issue that has Democrats and Republicans in Congress at loggerheads. See if you can fix the problem in our simulation.

The Iran Deal: Continue or Withdraw?

This brief simulation provides information on the main terms of the deal that was negotiated between Iran, the U.S. and other world powers over Iran’s nuclear program, as well as arguments for and against withdrawing and arguments for and against continuing with the deal. Should the U.S. withdraw or continue with the deal?