I’m getting my records organized so I can calculate my 4th quarter estimated tax payment for 2010. For a long time, I’ve wished that the IRS would include a survey at the end of our tax forms where we could express spending preferences. I’d like to indicate, somehow, that “I resent every penny spent on this criminal waste of money, but that expense is wholly justified and I wish we’d spend more on it.”

Here’s something close: a website called Stabilize the Debt that lets you take a theoretical whack at the U.S. budget. You work through 7 or 8 categories of spending and revenue decisions. Takes about 10 minutes. After you see just how hard it will be to make a serious change in the federal deficit, you can send your results to the Pew Research group to be tabulated.

I think it’s a good idea that individuals outside the government think about the hard choices our elected representatives will have to make on our behalf.  If enough of us respond, the results from Pew can give Congress some guidance about what ordinary  citizens are willing to tolerate. Who knows? Maybe 70% of us would support a carbon tax. Maybe only 4% of us still think it’s a swell idea to go to Mars. (The rovers satisfied my hunger for interplanetary excitement and learning; I can’t justify  the massive amount of money that manned exploration requires.) Maybe it will turn out that most of us would happily cancel the Star Wars missile defense system. Maybe lots of us think it’s reasonable to push the retirement age up gradually, over the next 20 years.  Suddenly some “hard choices” might look a little easier.

Personally, I got the annual deficit down from 69% to 41% but not without cringing at the brutal cuts I made or sighing at the increases in taxes and user fees I’d have to impose. And it’s still nowhere near a balanced budget. That’s going to be a lot tougher than I thought.

Give it a shot, and see how you do.  At the very least, you’ll have a better idea of what the poor s.o.b.s  in Congress are up against.