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.

The Federal Budget

Discretionary Spending and Taxes

Discretionary Budget
First, you will 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.

General Revenues, i.e. Taxes
Next, you will assess arguments about what priorities should be for federal taxes. Then you will have 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. Once again, as you go along you will be able to immediately see the effect of your choices on the deficit.

Try Federal Budget FY2019 Policymaking Simulation

Social Security


In 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.

Try Medicare Policymaking Simulation

Government Reform

Campaign Finance Reform

Encouraging Small Donors

  • Whether to provide tax credits for small donations by small donors
  • Whether to provide a six-to-one match for small donations using government revenues
  • Whether to provide a six-to-one match for small donations funded by a small fee on large federal government contractors

Try Encouraging Small Donors Policymaking Simulation

Constitutional Amendment Limiting Campaign Contributions

  • Whether to pass a constitutional amendment that would overturn the ‘Citizens United’ decision and allow Congress to limit campaign contributions and treat corporations differently than people.

Try Amendment Limiting Campaign Contributions Policymaking Simulation

Restricting Direct Fundraising by Members of Congress

  • Whether to prohibiting Members of Congress from personally asking for donations

Try Restricting Direct Fundraising Policymaking Simulation

Increasing Disclosure of Political Donations

  • Whether to require all individuals or organizations that donate or receive a total of $10,000 or more for campaign‐related activities to promptly register with the FEC, have their name and the amount of the donations listed on the Commission’s website;
  • Whether to require that independent campaign‐related expenditures by corporations, unions, and other groups promptly report such spending to shareholders, members, and the general public, as well as the FEC
  • Whether to require that names of significant donors paying for TV or radio ads in support of candidates or related to controversial issues be publicly disclosed
  • Whether to require donors using credit cards to provide the address in which they are registered to vote in the US, to get the CVV on all online donations, and to get and report the address of all credit card donors, not just those giving $50 or more as currently required by law.

Try Increasing Disclosure of Political Donations Policymaking Simulation

Public Funding of Presidential Campaigns

  • Whether to end the program for public funding of presidential campaigns. The $3 check off on taxpayers’ IRS forms would be ended and the unused funds would be directed to pediatric research or deficit reduction

Try Public Funding of Presidential Campaigns Policymaking Simulation

Allowing Nonprofits to Endorse Political Candidates

  • Whether to allow tax-exempt organizations to endorse political candidates and provide them money and other support, while keeping the organization’s tax-exempt status

Try Nonprofits Endorse Political Candidates Policymaking Simulation

Changes to the Way Congress is Elected

Citizen Redistricting to Counter Gerrymandering

Try Citizen Redistricting Policymaking Simulation

Ranked-Choice Voting

Try Ranked-Choice Voting Policymaking Simulation

Multi-Member Districts

Try Multi-Member Districts Policymaking Simulation

Term Limits for Members of Congress

  • Whether to have term limits for Senate and House Members and what those limits should be

Try Congressional Term Limits Policymaking Simulation

Tighter Limits on Lobbying by Former Government Officials

  • Whether to limit certain types of lobbying by former government officials

Try Lobbying by Former Government Officials Policymaking Simulation

Independent and Third Party Candidates

Independent and Third Party Candidates

  • Whether to make it more possible for independent and third party candidates to compete in Congressional elections
  • Whether to make it more possible for independent or third‐party candidates to participate in presidential debates

Try Independent and Third Party Policymaking Simulation

Support for Former Presidents

  • Whether to end the current government support for former Presidents for office space, staff, or free use of the mail

Try Support for Former Presidents Policymaking Simulation


Environmental Issues

Energy and Environment

Energy and Environment Introduction

  • Setting the priority level to reduce air pollution from energy production that has negative public health effects.
  • Setting the priority level to reduce greenhouse gases from energy production.

Try Energy and Environment Introduction Policymaking Simulation

International Climate Agreement

  • Whether the US should participate in the international agreement recently negotiated in Paris and signed in New York, and thereby adopting the goal of reducing its greenhouse gases approximately 2% a year.
  • Whether the US should provide aid to help developing countries reduce their greenhouse gases as part of the larger Paris agreement

Try International Climate Agreement Policymaking Simulation

The Clean Power Plan

  • Whether the US should implement a plan to reduce carbon dioxide in the air by calling for each state in the US to reduce carbon dioxide from power plants by 2‐3% a year. Each state is to come up with a plan suited to its circumstances and energy mix.
  • Whether the US should mitigate the effects of the Clean Power Plan on the coal industry by having the government subsidize the development and building of new technologies for sequestering carbon dioxide.
  • Whether the US should provide coal workers who lost their jobs with support and training to make the transition to other employment.

Try Clean Power Plan Policymaking Simulation

Tax Incentives for Reducing Carbon Dioxide

  • Whether the federal government should provide tax incentives to promote the reduction of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
  • Whether the federal government should extend tax credits to consumers and businesses for installing fuel‐efficient lighting, doors, windows and insulation, building new energy efficient homes, and installing wind and fuel cells.
  • Whether the federal government should provide tax credits for building biogas facilities on farms, which would reduce methane.

Try Tax Incentives for Reducing CO2 Policymaking Simulation

Approaches to Reducing Carbon Dioxide and Other Pollutants
Whether there should be government regulations to reduce carbon dioxide and other pollutants by:

  • requiring higher fuel efficiency standards for light cars and trucks, and heavy duty vehicles,
  • requiring electric companies to have a minimum portion of their electricity come from renewable sources.
  • requiring businesses to gradually replace hydrofluorocarbons with alternative refrigerants.

Try Regulations to Reduce CO2 and Other Pollutants Policymaking Simulation

Carbon Tax

  • Having a tax on the production of carbon dioxide (Note: This is also explored in the simulation on General Revenues, though here an evaluation of pro and con arguments is included.)
  • Using the income generated by a carbon tax to offset the impact of a carbon tax on people with low to middle incomes.

Try Carbon Tax Policymaking Simulation

Ground-Level Ozone

Ozone Standards

  • Evaluate proposal to delay the requirement that states undertake a step‐by‐step plan for lowering the maximum allowed ozone levels

Try Ozone Standards Policymaking Simulation

Solar Panel Tariffs

Imposing Tariffs

  • Whether to impose a tariff on solar energy panels.

Try Imposing Tariffs Policymaking Simulation

Offshore Oil Drilling

Lifting Oil Drilling Bans

  • Whether to lift the bans and allow drilling for oil and gas along all of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and to expand the allowed area around Alaska

Allow State-Specific Bans

  • Whether to allow governors requesting a waiver that would keep in place the ban on offshore drilling along their state’s coastline

Independent Auditors

  • Whether to lift the regulation requiring that oil drilling equipment be inspected by independent auditors certified by the federal government

Clean-Up Fund

  • Whether to renew for 5 years the tax oil companies pay to a special fund to cover the cost of acting immediately to clean up an oil spill when necessary and raise the amount from 9 cents to 10 cents per barrel

Try Offshore Oil Drilling Policymaking Simulation


Family-Based Immigration Programs

  • Whether to reduce or eliminate the program that provides about 290,000 green cards for the parents, siblings and adult children of US citizens
  • Whether to reduce or eliminate the program that provides about 27,000 green cards to the adult children of permanent residents

Try Family Based Immigration Programs Policymaking Simulation

Diversity Lottery

  • Whether to change the number of green cards granted through the lottery system to individuals from countries under-represented in the US population

Try Diversity Lottery Policymaking Simulation

Employment-Based Immigration

  • Increasing the number of green cards granted each year to immigrants who have skills that are needed in the US labor market or who are investors who could start a business
  • In deciding who should be granted a green card, a point-based system should be used to allocate visas

Try Employment-Based Immigration Policymaking Simulation

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Program (DACA)

  • Creating a legal status for 1.8 million people who were eligible under the DACA program and making them eligible to apply for citizenship in 10-12 years provided that they meet certain requirements

Try DACA Policymaking Simulation

Securing the Southern Border

  • Spending $25 billion on building a barrier along the southern border, primarily a wall
  • Spending $1 billion or more on strengthening the southern border

Try Securing Southern Border Policymaking Simulation

Postal Service Reform

All of the policy options assessed are from various bills that seek to address the US Postal Service’s fiscal problems.

Requirement to Prefund Health Benefits

  • Whether to reduce, end or maintain the requirement to prefund future retiree health benefits for postal service workers

A Wider Range of Products and Services

  • Whether to allow the US Postal Service to offer a wider range of products and services that could generate revenue for the USPS. These include self-service photocopying, expanding money transfer services, providing a highly secure email system, offering internet access, providing consulting services to countries modernizing their postal services, renting excess space to local governments, renting space to private companies, selling ad space in post offices and on USPS trucks and offer small-scale individual savings accounts

Raising Postal Rates

  • Whether to allow postal rates to rise faster than inflation if warranted by increasing costs

Closing Post Offices

  • Whether to allow the Postal Service to close most unprofitable post offices, which would close 12% of all post offices or no more than 5% of post offices

Eliminating Saturday Letter Delivery

  • Whether to allow the Postal Service to eliminate letter delivery for Saturday, but keeping delivery of packages and priority mail

Reducing Door Delivery

  • Whether to require or promote voluntary conversion from door‐delivery mail boxes to curbside or cluster boxes

Labor Dispute Arbitration

  • Whether to require that in the event of labor disputes, arbitrators always take into account the Postal Service’s long‐term financial stability

Try Postal Service Reform Policymaking Simulation

International Trade

As you may know, after World War II, the United States together with most of the major countries in the world set up a number of international agreements and institutions. The aim was to enable countries to cooperate in an effort to preserve peace, promote international trade, lessen poverty through economic development, reduce hunger, respond to disasters, help refugees, promote health, and further human rights and democracy.

The most prominent institution has been the United Nations and its related global agencies, such as the World Food Program and, more recently, the World Trade Organization.

But such agreements and institutions also include regional alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO and regional trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA.

Many people think that these agreements and institutions are still valuable and important, have served the U.S. well, and should be maintained even if they require some cost. But, other people think they are no longer useful and the U.S. should disengage from them so that the U.S. is freer to pursue its interests independently.

In this policymaking simulation, we will give you some background on some of the guiding principles of these agreements and institutions, and have you evaluate arguments for the U.S. maintaining or disengaging from them. The policymaking simulation is broken out into eight modules:

1. International Trade: Overview (12 questions)

Balancing the Negative Effects of Trade:

2. Unemployment Benefits  (5 questions)

3. Labor & Environmental Standards  (6 questions)

4. Trade Adjustment Assistance  (4 questions)

5. Job Training Programs  (8 questions)

6. US Tariffs on China  (4 questions)

7. Steel & Aluminum Tariffs (5 questions)

8. World Trade Organization (3 questions)

Net Neutrality

Faster Downloads

  • Whether to allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide websites the option to give their visitors the ability to download material at a higher speed, for a fee, while providing a slower speed for others

Blocking or Restricting Website Access

  • Whether to allow ISPs to block access to certain websites
  • Whether to allow ISPS to charge their customers an extra fee to gain access to certain websites

Try Net Neutrality Policymaking Simulation

Out of Date

Tax Reform

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 also evaluate the arguments for and against each proposal.

Reducing Tax Revenue

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

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 lower 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 keep the new tax deduction given to ‘pass through’ business owners

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

Sentencing Reform

There is a major debate these days about the number of Americans in prison. This debate has been prompted by the fact that the number of Americans in prison is historically high. The Sentencing Reform policymaking simulation examines proposals facing Congress that address the following issues:

Mandatory Sentencing

There have been a number of proposals in Congress to change the way that sentencing is done. The proposed change that would have the largest impact is to modify the laws that were passed during the period when crime rates were higher, called ‘mandatory minimum’ laws.

As mentioned, while previously judges had been given substantial discretion in sentencing, the new laws set ‘mandatory minimum sentences’ that required that the sentences be a certain minimum length. This minimum was also longer than the average sentences before the new laws. The new proposals currently being considered in Congress call for reducing federal mandatory sentencing requirements and giving judges more discretion, in setting sentences and granting parole.

With this discretion the judge can adjust sentences in light of their judgment of how much a defendant poses a risk to society. The kinds of things that a judge may consider is whether the person has a history of crimes, possessed a weapon at the time of the crime, were a leader in a joint criminal effort, and whether they fully cooperated with legal authorities. More broadly the judge may consider whether the person is likely to repeat their offenses.

Here are some of the current federal mandatory minimum sentences and the proposals being considered in Congress for modifying them.

“One Strike”
Currently, federal law requires that a conviction for one serious felony will result in a minimum 10 year prison sentence. Serious felonies can include:

  • Possessing or manufacturing a significant amount of illegal drugs with the apparent intention to sell.
  • What is called a “violent felony,” though it need not entail actual violence. Burglary and extortion are also included.

The proposal is to lower the mandatory minimum sentence for ‘one strike’ so that a judge could decide to give a sentence of 5 years in prison, though the judge could still make it longer.

“Two Strikes”
Current law requires that someone who is convicted of a second serious felony be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The proposal is to lower the mandatory minimum sentence for ‘two strikes” so that a judge could decide to give a sentence of 10 years in prison.

“Three Strikes”
This law is popularly referred to as “3 strikes and you are out.” It requires that if someone commits three serious felonies, they must be sentenced to life imprisonment. One of the felonies must be in the category of “violent felonies,” but, as mentioned, it need not entail violence since it includes burglary or extortion.

The proposal is to lower the mandatory minimum sentence for ‘three strikes’ so that a judge could decide to give a sentence of 25 years in prison.

New ‘Courier’ Category
Currently, someone whose role is limited to transporting or storing illegal drugs or the money related to drug deals is still subject to the mandatory minimum requirements so that, for example, one offense will result in a minimum sentence of 10 years.

The proposal is to create a new category for such cases, called ‘couriers,’ which would still be subject to punishment, but would not be subject to the mandatory minimums for serious drug offenses.

Compassionate Release

Currently, a significant number of prisoners are 60 years or older, terminally ill, or so ill that they need to be in an assisted living situation. It is also projected that, with current demographics, the number of prisoners in these categories will grow to 28% of the prison population by 2019.

Here is the proposal:

Judges would have the discretion to release from prison:

  • prisoners who are 60 years or older and have served two thirds of their sentence
  • prisoners who are terminally ill, or are so ill that they need to be in an assisted care facility

provided that:

  • they have no prior convictions for a crime of violence, sex offense, terrorism offense, or espionage
  • they do not have a history of violence,
  • they have never attempted an escape
  • their release from prison would lower costs for the government,
  • their release has been determined to pose no risk for society.

Prerelease Custody

To be selected for the Prerelease Custody Program, the prisoner must:

  • be evaluated as having a low to moderate risk of renewed criminal activity; and
  • and, if moderate, the risk of renewed criminal activity must be assessed to have diminished during the period of the sentence.

Also, prisoners who participate in programs that reduce the risk of renewed criminal activity–such as drug/alcohol treatment, or employment training–will have a higher chance of being selected for the program.

The Bureau of Prison would then have the option to allow selected prisoners to serve the last 10% of their sentence in their residence or in a halfway house. Inmates are subject to monitoring, such as with an electronic ankle bracelet, and are required to remain in their residence or half-way house, with exceptions for employment and other specified activities.

Juveniles Convicted as Adults

First some background: Some of the people in federal prison today were convicted for crimes they committed when they were juveniles i.e. less than 18 years old. Many of them were tried as adults and received long-term sentences, including life in prison.

Here is the proposal:

For prisoners who have were convicted as juveniles and have served at least 20 years in prison, federal judges will have the option to determine whether the prisoner still poses a threat to society, and to release them from prison and place them on 5 years of supervised release.

Factors to be considered in determining whether the prisoner poses a threat to any person or community include:

  • the nature and circumstances of the crime,
  • the age at which they were convicted,
  • their behavior during their imprisonment,
  • a report of rehabilitation or improvement by a licensed healthcare professional.

Equalize Crack and Powder Sentencing

Another proposal that seeks to moderate sentencing is related to sentences for selling cocaine. In 1986, when there was an epidemic of crack cocaine, a law was passed that gave much more severe sentences for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine. In general, when someone is caught with a certain amount of cocaine, a larger amount will result in a longer sentence. The 1986 law required that, for sentencing purposes, a gram of crack cocaine would be treated as equivalent to 100 grams of powder cocaine. This law contributed to significantly longer sentences for crack cocaine.

In 2010, a new law was passed that moderated this ratio. Crack cocaine was still counted as equivalent to a greater amount of powder cocaine, but it was counted as 18 times more than the equivalent of powder cocaine.

This law applied to all new cases, but it did not apply retroactively to cases before 2010. Thus there are now people in prison who would have completed their sentence under the counting-methods of the new law (18 to 1), but are still in prison under the counting-methods of the old law (100 to 1).

There is now a proposal to make the counting methods of the new law apply to the sentences from before the year 2010.

Try Sentencing Reform Policymaking Simulation

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 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 parts of the defense budget, evaluate arguments for why it should be increased or decreased, and get an opportunity to adjust it up or down.  These areas 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

Iran Nuclear Deal

In regard to the deal on Iran’s nuclear program signed in 2015:

  • Whether the US should withdraw from the deal and seek to negotiate a new deal or continue with the deal as long as Iran complies with the terms.

Try Iran Nuclear Deal Policymaking Simulation