What Americans really want. . .

After looking at the results of this CNN poll, it’s clear to me that as Americans we aren’t really ready to fix our debt/deficit problems.   Don’t get me wrong, we talk a great game.  The poll results show that most of us understand the concepts that it will take to fix the problem.  The bottom line, according to this poll, is we’re not ready to make the sacrifices necessary to fix it, in spite of all the rhetoric flying around.

I’ve seen numerous headlines quoting this poll indicating that 2/3 of Americans favor the Republican “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan.   This headline doesn’t really tell the whole story. For example in CNN’s poll, both of these questions had 66% of respondents in favor and 33% opposed.  These questions are referring to different proposals but the responses are the same.

“Question 21       In some proposals, Congress would raise the debt ceiling while cutting between two trillion and four trillion dollars in government spending over the next ten years and raising taxes on some businesses and higher-income Americans. Would you favor or oppose this proposal?”

“Question 23      In another proposal, Congress would raise the debt ceiling only if a balanced budget amendment were passed by both houses of Congress and substantial spending cuts and caps on future spending were approved. Would you favor or oppose this proposal?”

So in reality 2/3 of Americans also favor the White House proposal.   Instead of using this poll to say that Americans favor one proposal over another which really is not supported by the results, politicians in in Washington need to realize that governing, like all relationships, is about compromise.  The take away from the poll is Americans understand that it’s going to take a combination of cutting spending and raising taxes to reduce the deficit.   We realize that the debt ceiling is going to have to be raised but we want a long term solution to the problem of debt and overspending rather than just raising the ceiling.    It’s clear to me when you look at the questions in this poll that Americans are not set on a specific plan but we are in agreement on the principles.

Question 24 illustrates the heart of the problem.  The poll asks about cutting spending to some of the largest areas of government spending.  With the exception of defense spending, the answer is a resounding “No.”  To be fair, most people didn’t want to cut defense spending either, but the response was not a capital NO with an exclamation point as with some of the other areas.

Question 24.  Now I’m going to read you some of the specific proposals for cutting government spending and increasing taxes that have been suggested as part of the discussions on the debt ceiling.  For each one, please tell me whether you favor or oppose that proposal as a way to reduce the amount that the government owes.   (RANDOM ORDER)

Favor

Oppose

No Opinion

Cutting federal subsidies to farmers

31%

66%

2%

Cutting pensions and benefits for retired government workers

30%

68%

2%

Cutting defense spending

47%

52%

1%

Cutting the amount the government spends on Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor

22%

77%

*

Cutting the amount the government spends on Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly

12%

87%

1%

Cutting the amount the government spends on Social Security

16%

84%

1%

Increasing the taxes paid by oil and gas companies by ending federal subsidies for those businesses

73%

26%

1%

Increasing the taxes paid by businesses that own private jets

76%

26%

*

Increasing the taxes paid by people who make more than 250 thousand dollars a year

73%

26%

*

Since it seems that we’re all in agreement that we need to cut spending, and we seem to be in agreement on what we don’t want to cut, what does that leave?

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2010 the government spent $3.5 trillion or about 24% of GDP.  With $2.2 trillion paid by tax revenues, that left $1.3 trillion added to the deficit in 2010.

Defense Spending                                           20% or $705 billion                                              Social Security                                                20% or $707 billion                                        Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP                   21% or $732 billion ($452 billion Medicare)  Safety Net Programs                                      14% or $496 billion                                    Interest on the National Debt                      6% or $196 billion                                            Benefits for Fed Retirees and Vets             7%                                                                            Scientific and Med Research                       2%                                                          Transportation and Infrastructure            3%                                                                                  Education                                                        3%                                                                            Non-Security International                          1%                                                                                 All Other                                                              2%

Based on the poll, Americans are unwilling to make cuts in 48% of the budget.   Another 6% can’t be cut as it’s the interest on our debt (Keep in mind that default on even some of our obligations would cause an increase in our interest rates).   If you add in defense spending, 74% of the budget would be off the table for discussion.   I’m pretty sure that we don’t want to cut spending on Education, and we really don’t want to have bad roads, so we can’t cut spending on Transportation.

To me, this poll says that as a people we aren’t willing to make the hard choices that need to be made.   What Americans want is for someone else to spend less.  Spending cuts are exactly what we need as long as they affect someone other than me.   Increase taxes?  Absolutely, as long as it’s not my tax bill.

And speaking of taxes, according to the poll, 73% are in favor of increasing taxes/ending subsidies on gas and oil companies.  Let’s be clear, if the subsidies are ended, gas prices will go up.  The gas companies will pass this additional cost on to the consumer.   I understand why so many people are in favor of ending these subsidies.  I’m not arguing to keep them but I am pointing out what I think a lot of people aren’t thinking about.  We’re paying for this subsidy now and we’ll still pay this cost if the subsidy is removed, but it will be in the form of higher gas prices.

It’s past time for a serious discussion.   Washington – stop with the “my way or the highway” rhetoric.   We elected you to make government work, not to stop it in its tracks.  Americans, it’s time to make serious long term changes.  If you believe that cutting spending is the way to solve the problem, then let’s get real about what can be cut.  If you think that taxes will need to go up to pay off the deficit, then stop yelling no more taxes.  If you’ve been sitting in your house silently, it’s time to speak up. We need to let our elected officials know what sacrifices we’re willing to make to solve this problem.

Most importantly, we need to start focusing on how we can impact the problem instead of how we can escape the consequences.

DM

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One Response to What Americans really want. . .

  1. Thanks for some very insightful comments based on verifiable information (thanks for giving both). Looking past the ends of our noses to consider the possible impacts of our choices does not seem to be a common characteristic of human beings—so, thanks for pointing some of those out. It appears to me that the current situation is similar in its root to the recent worldwide economic problems: our self-centeredness playing out through greed while pointing to others as the cause. Self examination and objective assessment of cause/effect in any situation is challenging . . . thanks for putting out the call to all of us to do that! jeanne barnett :0)

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