Washington (CNN) - The deficit tangle is a web of complex, long-term, financial problems. But no one seems to ask a basic question: Do members of Congress have those kinds of math skills?
Some of them can't do simple math on the spot (example in latest American Sauce podcast: 642-211). Many of them have mixed up "billions" and "trillions". And the vast majority of Congress comes from professions that don't involve high-level math.
But reining in the deficit means dealing with defense spending, entitlement costs, the tax code and the economy.
"How many members actually understand the ins and outs on all of these things at the same time?," budget expert Stan Collender posed, "maybe five, maybe 10, but not much more than that."
Collender is one of the rare people who has worked for both the House and Senate budget committees. He now is with Qorvis Communications in Washington.
The former budget staffer points out that members of Congress rely on trusted aides to boil down, explain and sometimes compute the math of potential policy. But with so much of current policy hinging on numbers, the level of math understanding by members could affect the tone and direction of debate dramatically.
American Sauce asked Collender, "How good are members of Congress at math?" His answer, "Math is not the basic thing here."
Collender means that math is not the prime motivator or analytic tool for any action in Washington. What is? He indicates it's appealing to your voters, whether the math works or not.
"If a member of Congress goes back and tries to explain the process, tries to explain the substance, they sound like part of the problem, not part of the solution," Collender said. "Some members of Congress listen but in many cases what they're trying to do is come up with something that will please their constituents and make them think they are thinking for them."
For more on just how many members of Congress have math skills, listen to this week's podcast.
You can also listen to American Sauce on iTunes, Stitcher or subscribe to the podcast via RSS.
– CNN's Dan Szematowicz, Jonathan Binder and Emma Lacey-Bordeaux contributed to this report.