Austerity Measurement: Budget Ideology Fails Outside Of A Vacuum

—by , February 16, 2011

Poll Shows Americans Balance Budget Better When They’re Actually Given A Budget To Balance

As a March 4 deadline looms for approval of a new budget (as well as the humiliating process of raising the debt ceiling), the propositions emerging from both sides of the aisle are shamefully typical. The Democratic budget cutting leans toward reductions in military spending (effectively killing the Joint Strike Fighter Program), while the Republican proposal further guts domestic spending (additional cuts in training and employment grants, clean drinking water, science spending, etc.).

The truth of the matter, however, is that about 84 percent of the budget is made up of sacred cows (Medicare, Medicaid and Department of Defense spending) and mandatory spending (i.e. interest on debt), leaving only 16 percent of the budget to be tinkered with. Even with such a small margin to work with, Republicans promised to bring down the budget by $100 billion—barely 3 percent of the budget, and Obama’s budget plan ups the ante slightly at $1.1 billion over 10 years.

As Republicans attempt to play down Obama’s budget plan this week as not going far enough and Democrats try to protect progressive initiatives, studies show that Americans like almost everything the government does but still wants the government to spend less money. When asked specifically about every individual government spending program, Americans, both left-leaning and right-leaning, only want to cut foreign aid.

And forget about raising taxes.

In truth, neither plan goes far enough. Even a 6 percent decrease in government spending would still see the U.S. federal budget spending on a deficit. The figures are truly staggering, and taking things off the table based on the supposed will of the people is shortsighted.

Why? Because given the U.S. federal budget to balance, Americans do all the things that they say they don’t want to do.

A recent survey by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation presented 2,000 respondents a simplified but accurate sample federal budget to make practical fiscal policy decisions rather than theoretical ones.

Republican and Democrat responders both chose overwhelmingly to reduce spending on the military (the survey included an average of over $112 billion in military reductions), State Department, highway system, veteran’s benefits, large farm subsidies and intelligence agencies. All agreed to increase spending on job training, energy conservation, education, small farmer subsidies, pollution control and humanitarian assistance.

Democrats overall cut more ($157.3 billion) than Republicans did ($100.7 billion), but both cut less than Independents ($195.5 billion). Those who claimed they were “very sympathetic” to the Tea Party cut the least on average ($100 billion). In total, 76 percent of respondents chose to cut spending by an average of $145.7 billion.

Perhaps more shockingly, the poll showed that Americans want to increase tax revenues more than cut spending. 92 percent of responders increased taxes for an average tax revenue increase of $291.6 billion. Democrats chose to increase taxes the most ($338.5 billion) followed by Independents ($305.5 billion). Republicans still wanted to raise taxes by $229.9 billion, even the Tea Party sympathizers ($188.2 billion). A whopping 75 percent of respondents increased the income tax, with an average increase of $154.8 billion, with the largest source of that coming from individuals making over $100,000 a year.

And on some other nitpicky issues, the majority of respondents found it tolerable to raise the Medicare and Social Security taxes, a large majority found it acceptable to repeal tax deductions for oil and gas companies and most favored increasing the capital gains tax.

Remember when everyone claimed that the Census was “too invasive” this year? Maybe instead of sending out a Census, Americans should receive a sample federal budget to fill out every ten years and mail back, although some people might consider that to be “too invasive” as well.

Like bought-and-sold lawmakers.


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