ongress and the President may come to loggerheads every time they try to write the federal budget. But now, thanks to an electronic game site on the World Wide Web, ordinary Americans have been given the opportunity to outperform their elected leaders.
The game Reinventing America -which is free and interactive-has begun a 26-week run, enabling players to reevaluate the federal budget from the ground up. Every week, two, three or four spending areas-from farm subsidies and Indian programs to maritime policies and pollution controls-are put up for discussion, along with briefing materials and links to government and private-sector Web sites that contain "real-life" information relevant to that week's topics. Several experts have volunteered to host on-line discussions, ranging from Washington pundit Norman Ornstein to movie director Oliver Stone.
After considering their options, players each week vote for specific increases, decreases and program eliminations as they see fit. By May, the cumulative budget choices will be subject to an overall vote, with the on-line voting results assembled, forwarded to Congress and posted on the Internet.
Players may also join one of seven ideological coalitions to discuss budget issues and plan their strategy. These include United for America (old-line New Dealers, Reagan Democrats and economic nationalists); the Common Sense League (upscale, middle-of-the-road, good-government deficit-hawks); the Free Market Alliance (libertarian and "opportunity" conservatives); the Family Coalition (religious conservatives); Alliance for Planet Earth (environmentalists); New Horizons (unabashed liberals); and America Arise! (politically fed-up admirers of Ross Perot). Participants may also play as independents.
Reinventing America was designed by New York-based Crossover Technologies and is funded by the cyberspace-oriented John and Mary R. Markle Foundation. It is distributed through Time-Warner's Pathfinder Web site. Crossover said that by mid-November, 1,000 players had signed up, with the number of "hits" growing by about 10 percent a week.