Most Americans, including most Republicans, oppose any significant spending cuts

If you’re wondering why the politicians in Washington are having such a difficult time reaching a deal to reduce federal deficits, the blame lies largely with the American people. The politicians are not getting any clear message from ordinary folks on what to do about spending.

President Obama, with the strong support of most Americans, wants to make at least a dent in the deficit problem by raising taxes on the richest two percent. But most Republican lawmakers oppose that idea. They argue (falsely, of course) that a tax hike on the rich would be bad for the economy.

Beyond the tax issue, however, there’s no pubic mandate for reduced federal spending — at least not in specific terms.

Consider THESE RESULTS from a new poll:

A majority of respondents opposed cuts to Medicare, changes to the program’s eligibility age,  cuts to Social Security, letting the current payroll tax cut expire, letting the Bush tax cuts expire on everyone, eliminating the tax deduction for charitable contributions, cutting spending on Medicaid, reducing the home mortgage interest tax deduction. The only proposal supported by a majority is raising taxes on the wealthy. This tells you a lot about why the fiscal cliff negotiations are moving so slowly, and why it’s so difficult to for Congress come to agreement on a budget deal. 

What’s particularly revealing, though, is what you see when you single out the poll’s self-identified Republicans. Unlike the overall polling sample, a majority of the poll’s Republicans do not support raising taxes on the wealthy. But they don’t support any of the  spending cuts mentioned in the poll either. Not to Medicare or Medicaid, and not to the tax loopholes surveyed either. Republicans, in other words, don’t support much of anything except leaving things the way they are now. Which is exactly what we can’t do.

Might there be some spending cuts that Republicans do support that just didn’t get included in this poll? Probably. Polls suggest that most voters are open to cuts in foreign aid. Cutting subsidies for public broadcasting usually plays well with the GOP base. But polls also tell us that voters consistently overestimate how much of the budget is spent on those sorts of things by a large margin: Surveys have shown that respondents estimate that 10-25 percent of the federal budget goes to funding foreign aid, and about 5 percent goes to public broadcasting. The reality is that only about 1 percent funds foreign aid, and only about 0.1 percent is used to subsidize public broadcasting.

This confusion, and the unwillingness to face up to our actual long-term budgetary challenges, explains a lot about why the GOP’s last presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, talked a big game about cutting deficits and reducing the debt, but when asked for specifics focused heavily on small-ball spending cuts. It also helps explain why Republicans now are so often wary of talking about overhauling the entitlement system. And it also speaks to a larger confusion within the party about what government should do and be: In theory, the GOP is the party of small government. But polls like this one suggest that it’s really the party of the status quo.



  1. It’s not the Republicans, it is all of our elected officials.

    The Republicans are at least willing to admit that cuts in government spending, including entitlements, need to take place.

    The Democrats can’t even be that bold because their entire electoral strategy is based on promising free stuff to people in order to garner their votes.

    The elected are going to need to lead, not just continue to worry about how to get re-elected.

  2. doc: But most Republican politicians won’t countenance any significant cuts in defense spending. They are owned by the same military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned against in his farewell as president.

    Some of your so-called frugal Republicans insist on wasting taxpayer dollars on weapons systems the Pentagon says it doesn’t want or need. Hypocrites!

  3. Why does it make them hypocrites to say they don’t want to cut defense spending?

    It may make them irresponsible, but hypocrite doesn’t seem like the correct word.

  4. doc: Sometimes I wonder why I bother explaining such simple concepts to you.

    When a lawmaker who postures as an opponent of wasteful spending approves wasteful expenditures on unneeded weapons systems, he or she is a hypocrite.

    That’s what I said, in effect, in the second paragraph of my previous comment, but it seems to have just flown over your empty head.

  5. Someone and something have to give somewhere, or the working (Middle?) class is going to shoulder even more than they are now. Things are going to get much worse than they have been as of late. Cuts can’t come from Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid.

    The wealthy can absorb a tax increase far easier than the working (Middle?) class. Things almost seem to be moving toward there being three new classes of citizen in America:

    1. The Wealthy

    2. The Working Poor

    3. The Destitute

    I don’t mean to sound like an unfeeling bastard, here, but I think that there is a lot that we can cut with respect to foreign aid. America, as much as I love it, just isn’t, nor can it continue to try to be, the world’s Superman anymore.

  6. JGordon: You say “there is a lot that we can cut with respect to foreign aid.”

    I guess you didn’t read the part of the above post where it says that foreign aid amounts to barely one percent of the federal budget.

    Surveys show that most Americans think that between 10 and 25 percent goes to foreign aid, but most Americans are wrong — way wrong — about that.

  7. I didn’t realize that foreign aid represented such a low percentage…I guess I just focused on the amounts reported in dollar figures ($ x amount to country A, $ x amount to country B, etc.).

    I just read another of your posts about how top-heavy we are with “Military Brass”. Interesting reading, to say the least. We just seem to be hemorrhaging money in every direction. What a mess.

  8. What percentage of the federal budget will the “tax on the wealthy” cover?

  9. Craig Knauss


    The area I live in now is dominated by Republicans. Cong. Doc Hastings is always talking about reducing federal spending. However, he and the rest of the Republicans never mention reducing the agricultural subsidies, the irrigation subsidies, the power subsidies, the oil subsidies, the freeways, the locks and dams, the airports, etc. that their constituents enjoy. They only want to cut someone else’s spending. You don’t think that’s hypocritical? I sure do.

  10. Brian Opsahl

    More than it did under your buddy Bush…Doc. most of our rich folks wont even notice there taxes got raised unless they happen to call there accountent….poor babys

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