Americans don’t really want to cut spending

As the comic strip character Pogo famously put it, ” We have met the enemy, and he is us.” A new New York Times/CBS poll makes clear that Americans don’t want to raise taxes but we don’t want to cut spending, either. From the NYT:

As President Obama and Congress brace to battle over how to reduce chronic annual budget deficits, Americans overwhelmingly say that in general they prefer cutting government spending to paying higher taxes, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Yet their preference for spending cuts, even in programs that benefit them, dissolves when they are presented with specific options related to Medicare and Social Security, the programs that directly touch the most people and also are the biggest drivers of the government’s projected long-term debt.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans choose higher payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security over reduced benefits in either program. And asked to choose among cuts to Medicare, Social Security or the nation’s third-largest spending program — the military — a majority by a large margin said cut the Pentagon.

Americans have been misled about what has created the huge longterm deficit. They believe it has been caused by programs for poor “parasites,” a vague practice of government “waste” and foreign aid. In fact, the major drivers of federal spending are Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and the Pentagon. You don’t cut spending unless you substantially cut those areas.

As NYT economics writer David Leonhardt put it:

We have come to believe a story about the deficit that is largely not true.

It’s a comforting story, to be sure. It holds the promise of a painless solution, because it suggests that the country’s huge looming deficits are not really our fault. Instead, they seem to stem from weak-willed politicians, wasteful government programs that do not benefit us and tax avoidance by people we have never met.

In truth, the coming deficits are a result, above all, of the fact that most Americans are scheduled to receive far more in Medicare benefits than they have paid in Medicare taxes. Conservative and liberal economists agree on this point. After Medicare on the list of big, growing budget items come Social Security and the military.

The three programs are roughly as popular as tax increases are unpopular – which is precisely why solving the deficit problem will be so difficult.

It’s time for Americans to grow up and accept the basic arithmetic of our longterm deficit. (See the chart below. It shows 2007 federal spending, but the basic outlines have not changed)
350px-U.S._Federal_Spending_-_FY_2007

462 comments Add your comment

southpaw

January 21st, 2011
7:45 am

Aliquando

January 21st, 2011
7:46 am

You mean Americans who get more than the government takes from them. Nice writing. You quoted more than you wrote. What a job!

Mary Elizabeth

January 21st, 2011
7:47 am

Perhaps, Americans should “grow up” and accept a tax increase – needed to offset the fact that the surplus of 2000 had become a huge deficit by the time Bush II left office.

Martin the Calvinist

January 21st, 2011
7:47 am

Grow up about our debt?!? Seriously? We are about to spend ourselves to oblivion and we need to grow up?

Rufus

January 21st, 2011
7:49 am

Wow! I finally agree with Ms. Tucker on something! Can the Apocalypse be far behind?

Peadawg

January 21st, 2011
7:51 am

Perhaps, Americans should “grow up” and accept cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, Pentagon, etc. etc.

Fixed your typo, Mary.

Martin the Calvinist

January 21st, 2011
7:52 am

Mary Elizabeth, have you seen the price of fuel and food? The last thing we need to do is “grow up” and accept another tax increase.

Martin the Calvinist

January 21st, 2011
7:53 am

Nice Peadawg! On a recruiting note, what did you think of the big pick ups for the Dawgs last night?

Keep up the good fight!

January 21st, 2011
7:55 am

We need to pay our debts. Realistically we aren’t going to cut spending despite all the silliness. We can however work on smart government, raise fees on those who use services and raise penalties. We do need an overhaul of the tax system — there is no reason that corporations should pay no taxes and that money managers pay only 15% on their income. We need fairness throughout the system.

Peadawg

January 21st, 2011
7:55 am

Mark Richt has recruited well but like Steve Spurrier said, “once those 4 and 5 star recruits get there, what the hell happens to them?” We’ll see.

HDB

January 21st, 2011
7:56 am

When people persist in making overall cuts….but don’t accept cuts in programs that will affect THEM, there’s a problem! Whatever happened to “shared sacrifice”? What should occur is both targeted cuts in spending along with a tax increase to balance the budget…lessen the deficit…and pay down on the national debt!! When we’re paying for wars off-the-books and cut revenie simultaneously..that’s what got us in this shape!!

Peadawg

January 21st, 2011
7:58 am

So how much IS enough for you Keep? 20%? 30% 50% of our paychecks? How much is enough for your liberals?

“We can however work on smart government” – Then get the big spending Obama’s, Bush’s, and Pelosi’s of the world out of Washington.

TBone

January 21st, 2011
7:59 am

Sending more tax revenue to Washington is like giving a junkie more smack. It’s time to cut spending, cut spending and cut spending again. We need to redefine what the role of government is and stick to basics. The role of the federal government is not Santa Claus. Go Dawgs!

The REAL GodHatesTrash, Superstar

January 21st, 2011
8:01 am

The so-called “Greatest Generation” and the generation before them got a lot more out of Medicare than they put in, making it a Ponzi scheme for their benefit. Medicare payroll deductions didn’t start until 1965, and seniors were immediately eligible. In the early years, there were people that never put a dime in that got benefits. I’ll have paid into the system 52 years if I retire at 65.

Paul

January 21st, 2011
8:05 am

“We have come to believe a story about the deficit that is largely not true.”

Agree.

“… it suggests that the country’s huge looming deficits are not really our fault.”

Agree. It does do that.

” Instead, they seem to stem from weak-willed politicians, ”

Disagree. Part of the responsibility IS weak-willed politicians who have demonstrated failure of leadership. And that falls back on voters who put them there.

Question, Ms. Tucker: aside from cuts to military spending (which I support, beginning with a 25 percent reduction and increasing in outyears), do you support any entitlement reform? If so, what?

Side note: the proposal released yesterday by Sen DeMint and two others – not from the leadership, at least on the surface – exempts SS, Medicare and Defense. As such, it fails to address structural long-term issues and plays to the misperception that our problems are the result of parasites and waste.

meat and three

January 21st, 2011
8:07 am

Tax right-wing xenophobia and the debt will vanish within a week’s time.

St. Theresa

January 21st, 2011
8:09 am

Blessed are the Sick; for they shall get Healthcare. Blessed are those who are taxed for the common good; for they shall stop epidemics in their tracks. Blessed are those who vote liberal on social security issues; for they shall prevent class warfare.

No humans were harmed in the saving of this country.

Martin the Calvinist

January 21st, 2011
8:10 am

It’s time to tighten our belts! That’s what average American families do when they bring in less. Time for us to make tough decisions here. The majority of those who are calling for a tax increase only are more than likely those who pay little in and get a whole lot more out of it. So they could care less if there boss, if they have one, gets a tax increase.

godless heathen

January 21st, 2011
8:11 am

Cut every program 10%, gore everybody’s ox.

The prez should call every cabinet member to the offal office and tell them: Be back here Friday with a plan to reduce the spending in your department by 10%. Oh and Duncan and Chu, just clean out your desks, you will not be needed any longer

carlosgvv

January 21st, 2011
8:20 am

Many Americans want a generous variety of Government programs while getting generous tax cuts. The idea of no free lunch seems to be foreign to them.

HDB

January 21st, 2011
8:23 am

For those who persist in eliminating the Departments of Energy and Education…lest you forget that Education was ALWAYS a cabinet position (formerly HEW – Health, Education, and Welfare)! Energy is already a national issue…and a dedicated department is required!! A 2-year freeze in government spending is mandated….and a cost-benefit analysis on every department needs to be run so that the efficiencies can be determined and what needs to be cut!! We need a scapel…not a meat cleaver!!

StJ

January 21st, 2011
8:26 am

People were taxed all their working lives to pay into the SS/Medicare funds so that something would be there when they needed it later. The problem is that government raided that fund to pay for other things and covered it up with Madoff-style accounting. Now when people who have paid into the system need that money back, it isn’t there. Surprise.

And of course, defense got thrown in there because liberals generally hate the military. Without a strong military, we would all be speaking German, Japanese, or Russian right about now. But hey, who needs the military, right?

Keep up the good fight!

January 21st, 2011
8:26 am

Pea… you do know we are at historically low rates. And you do realize that many of these services are for things Americans want. Fighting wars cost money.

The fact that the admitted past fiscal irresponsibilty of the GOP (and, I have no problem in pointing to many of the DEMS too) means that we need to tighten our belts, get the debts resolved and decide what are truly smart spends and how to have smarter government.

Bob

January 21st, 2011
8:26 am

Yes, some people don’t want cuts. They are the ones getting the goodies. Ask someone that actually pays fed income tax, the majority would not defend another stimulus. Going back to the ‘08 budget and freezing it there for a few years.

HDB

January 21st, 2011
8:32 am

StJ
January 21st, 2011
8:26 am
“And of course, defense got thrown in there because liberals generally hate the military”

Not true!! Having served in the military, I have seen the mentality of military spending!! Agencies say this: spend it all…because next year, I’ve got a 15% increase scheduled in the budget….if there’s anything left, my budget is REDUCED!!

What needs to occur in the military is a consolidation of the procurement arms….that would save an enormous amount of funding!! Also, allow the military budget to rollover any saved funds into the next fiscal year!!

Peadawg

January 21st, 2011
8:32 am

” means that we need to tighten our belts, get the debts resolved and decide what are truly smart spends and how to have smarter government.” – We agree on that…but I guess we differ on how to achieve it.

TBone

January 21st, 2011
8:37 am

Smarter government; isn’t that an oxymoron? It seems obvious that the model being used to run this government is outdated and needs more than tweaking.

Tychus Findlay

January 21st, 2011
8:39 am

Cut spending across every department and board by 10%. Let each individual group figure out how to make do with less.

Keep up the good fight!

January 21st, 2011
8:40 am

These generalizations like the “libs hate the military” are absurd. Does anyone like the wasteful spending and overpriced equipment, the fraud (excluding the criminals that take the money)? There are some things that would be smarter spends — like auditors to be sure that a $.10 washer does not have nearly a $1 million dollar shipping charge.

Or to spend on equipment that truly works and to give our military real protection like vests instead of some silly Rumsfeld excuse.

Smarter government. Its time.

awj

January 21st, 2011
8:40 am

Wow!! Wow is all I can say. Sometimes I wonder if CT writes this garbage just to fire people up becasue every time I read one of her articles I think, “Surely nobody is that ignorant and mis-informed”. I hope the focus of your articles is to fire people up, but I just don’t think that is the case.

Good Grief

January 21st, 2011
8:42 am

I’m saddened that the “FIRST” disease has struck CT’s blog.

Sure Americans want to cut spending. Americans also want the government to do more for them. Now you have to define which group of Americans you are talking about.

There is a large group of conservatives and Libertarians who would love a smaller government with less taxation and less spending. There is also a group of ‘conservatives’ who want to spend more. There is a group of politicians making a living right now by handing out largesse from the treasury in the form of food stamps, or welfare, or pork spending. I’m sore the constituents of these politicians aren’t in favor of less spending, because they are benefitting most from the spending.

You want a good place to start, I say go through every department of government, from the DOD down to the congressional staffers and janitors, anything paid for with public funds, and cut departmental spending by 25%. Most every American has at some time in their life had to cut their own spending by that much because of a bad economic situation, but for some reason Washington seems to think itself immune from the minutae of the common folk.

hdhd

January 21st, 2011
8:44 am

THIS ARGUMENT is a STRAW MAN.

To say “well, these programs aren’t the main cause of government debt” is not an excuse to waste money. The point is that this not money we need to spend. Period. It is just like justifying this healthcare abomination by saying “it reduces the deficit.” So what? You can murder babies and that reduces the deficit too, doesn’t mean you should.

Tia

January 21st, 2011
8:45 am

Mary Elizabeth,

I don’t believe the definition of “growing up” is agreeing that I should fork over more money to an institution that is proven they cannot handle it and make smart decisions. I believer that is definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results.

Zedd

January 21st, 2011
8:45 am

Democrats, creating new ways for the lazy to game the system everyday.

Cayce

January 21st, 2011
8:46 am

“People were taxed all their working lives to pay into the SS/Medicare funds so that something would be there when they needed it later.”

This is a crazy argument! Do you seriously think you paid into SS/Medicare as much as you are getting back at retirement? Those numbers don’t add up. Those payroll taxes weren’t a savings account where you put in a sum of money and took that same sum of money back out. You’re getting far more than you ever paid into the system.

And if we’re talking about cutting entitlement programs, can we start with the farm bill?

George P. Burdell

January 21st, 2011
8:48 am

We are currently spening about $10,000 per year per employed person on the combination of SS and Medicare/Medicaid. That is not sustainable considering the average worker makes about $36,000 and the demagraphics are only getting worse, There seems to be no real push in DC to fix the problems and each year of no action further compounds the problem. We may have to accept the fact that it won’t be fixed until everything completely breaks down.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

January 21st, 2011
8:48 am

Good morning all. I like the Republican idea to freeze non-military Federal spending at 2006 levels for 10 years. That would wipe out the entire national debt over a generation, and would have the beneficial side effect of stimulating economic growth.

My first preference would be wholesale elimination of most Federal agencies. Many – FNMA, FHLMC, SBA – perform functions that the free-market would perform more efficiently and at less cost. Others – SEC, EPA, OSHA – are policemen who lock the barn door after the horses escape, and thereafter punish the innocent who did not commit the prior crimes. At least one – FDA – kills more people every year, through abolition of useful drugs and industry delay and other restrictions, than does our noble military; that will also soon be true of HHS, thanks ObamaCare. Many cabinet offices – Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, HUD, Education, Transportation – are a total waste. There is a lot of room for serious cuts that would have only beneficial effects on our culture.

Darwin

January 21st, 2011
8:49 am

Are we to believe that Repubs are misinformed about govt spending? Say it ain’t so! Do Repubs demonize minorities and disavow any responsbility in our government spending? Isn’t our problems a result of lazy minorities and illegal immigrants out to steal our jobs? My gut reaction is to accuse CT and the AJC of being liberal, against all things American and Republican. Heck, everyone’s liberal except my Repub friends, Sarah Palin, and Faux News.

Richard

January 21st, 2011
8:51 am

NYT Poll? I wonder who they ask in a poll. For this subject the only people that should be allowed to give their opinion on whether to cut spending or raise taxes should be non retired, receiving no government money, pays taxes and has a job. I would bet that a huge majority would say cut taxes and lower spending. This is why we need to change the tax system so that more people pay taxes.

Sheila

January 21st, 2011
8:51 am

I am so sick of supporting your lazy liberal voter base.

TS

January 21st, 2011
8:51 am

I sure do want to cut spending. Can we at least modify the headline to say Some Americans really don’t want to cut spending?

Some People are misinformed

January 21st, 2011
8:51 am

I love the people who say cut everything flatly across the board.

If you cut 10% off a 3 trillion dollar budget, that 300 billion…you still have a huge deficit…
Why does everyone compare the governemnt to themselves. There is also something else you do when personal income is low…get another job…unfortunately the government can’t do that. How bout let the tax rates expire, and cut 50% across the board. Raise the retirement age and uncap SSI.

Normal

January 21st, 2011
8:52 am

Peadawg

January 21st, 2011
7:51 am

Sprout Puppy,
Still trying to scr*w your parents, huh?

Joel Edge

January 21st, 2011
8:53 am

I suspect we don’t want the economy to totally collapse either. Wish in one hand and spit in the other, see which one fills up first.
Deal the waste, fraud, and spend, tax, spend mentality in Washington. Or don’t.
Self correcting.

Dan

January 21st, 2011
8:55 am

Did you see the Nov elections, they most certainly do. There is soooo much waste in government spending city, county, state, Fed. Government effciency is a punch line and always has been. Goverment should be a safety net, not a golden staircase

Good Grief

January 21st, 2011
8:57 am

Dan @ 8:55 -
You mean you don’t believe Nancy pelosi when she says that, had it not been for Democrats being in control, unemployment would’ve been at 16%? I know that the national debt was at $11 trillion or so when Obama took office and it’s now at $14 trillion (approx.), but surely that is George Bush’s fault, right?

joe

January 21st, 2011
8:57 am

BS—I want it all cut past the point that it hurts. When I was in debt 3 years ago, I decided to cut everything possible…no cable tv, no eating meals at restaurants, no vacations, no frills spending on clothes, appliances, furniture, nothing. Everything went to pay off debt. Now, I have paid off 40k in debt and have 15k more to go. I can see the light and so should every American. If our Govt doesn’t take the same approach, we are doomed to be speaking Chinese…and BTW, getting all illegal aliens out of the US so we don’t have to spend on them is a must in order to save on unnecessary spending.

Jimmy62

January 21st, 2011
8:57 am

And libertarians and fiscal conservatives and Tea Party folks under the age of 50 have been talking about cuts to Medicare and Social Security for a long time. So what’s your point? That you finally figured out the obvious things we’ve been saying, that Medicare and SS are killing our country? Of course since the current government is turning our currency into monopoly money, all their debt, and the money owed from SS and Medicare will be worth a lot less, too. Inflation and dilution helps our political class while hurting the poor as well those with savings, but Obama is pushing full on with inflationary policies (though he would never agree with that analysis publicly).

Donna P.

January 21st, 2011
8:59 am

I would like every federal government agency audited for fraud and waste. I bet we could find millions of dollars that could be re-couped if our politicians had the “balls” to do something about it. Then I would audit Welfare to make sure only American-born or naturalized citizens are obtaining benefits and not foreign-born peoples. Next, let’s leave Iraq and Afghanistan and bring our troops home. They could patrol the Mexican border to keep out illegals and drugs.

Keep up the good fight!

January 21st, 2011
8:59 am

Dan, and how efficient is large business? Any large organization is going to have inefficiency. Large corporations like GE, HP and others do. BoA does. It cant even do foreclosures correctly right now. Yes there is government waste and inefficiency at all levels. It also occurs in business. The reality is it will always be there. Smarter government is the way to deal with it.