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Americans prefer tax increases to benefit cuts

In Washington, the fiscal commission -- and the elite consensus -- favors sharp spending cuts over tax increases as a way to plug the entitlement hole. In the country, the preference is just the opposite:


Interestingly, this holds true for every single age group. We're not looking at a situation where the elderly oppose benefit cuts in large numbers, but other demographics are more favorably inclined. In fact, it's the young who are most steadfastly opposed to benefit cuts:


By Ezra Klein  | October 18, 2010; 9:05 AM ET
Categories:  Budget, Charts and Graphs  
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Unfortunately, Americans don't really have much control of their government any more. Rather than do what's good for the country or for people in general, the government will continue to do what's good for the rich, regardless of who gets elected.

But if you're lucky, the banks won't steal your house. So there's that.

Posted by: Bullsmith1 | October 18, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

The ultrawealthy have taken over every institution with any power in this country.

They are guaranteed to be able to extract unimaginable wealth from our financial systems, and get their taxes cut.

Even the Democrats are only weakly responsive to the needs of the non-ultrawealthy, which is why hardly anyone sees a need to vote for them in November.

Posted by: ottoparts | October 18, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

What about tax increases AND benefit cuts? Did you ask them that? Because that's the reality of what most Americans will get, with huge amounts siphoned off medicare to go as a payoff to what the administration thinks are voting groups sure to support them.

Posted by: truck1 | October 18, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

The percentages for each age bracket seem to indicate that additional options were offered, but aren't on the list. I.e. in the 30 - 49 year old bracket you have 38% for raising taxes and 34% for benefit cuts. Together, this is 72%. What were the other responses for the missing 28%?

Posted by: jnc4p | October 18, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Well, Duh. If you ask a direct question, you might get a logical answer. But the question ought to be phrased more like:

"Barack Obama is a Socialist. He doesn't believe in God and is has a secret plan replace all of the local liquor stores with mosques. He personally has created huge deficits by eating mountains of arugula since taking office. Should a person like this be given more control over our lives by requiring increased costs on everything that we do and buy from driving our car to watching Pro Football to eating potato chips? Or should a few lazy slobs on welfare be made to earn good wages through hard work and sharing the sacrifices the rest of us make? 9/11."

Try that question. I bet you'll get some different responses.

Posted by: klautsack | October 18, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Americans prefer tax increases *on other people* to benefit cuts.

Do you think Americans would support hiking FICA contributions by enough to fully fund Social Security and Medicare (parts A, B and D) over the next 75 years?

Keep in mind that most of the decrease in the Medicare shortfall from the most recent trustees report was basically called out as garbage by the Medicare actuary.

Posted by: justin84 | October 18, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

"Americans prefer tax increases *on other people* to benefit cuts." posted by justin84

Just as the Democrats demagogued the Bush Tax Cuts For The Wealthy and belatedly realized that the real contributor to our deficit problem was the Bush Tax Cuts For The Non-Wealthy, so at some point people will figure out that there aren't enough rich people to finance all the middle class goodies and that the middle class will have to fund it's own benefits. Unfortunately, as the current push to extend the Bush Tax Cuts For All Forever, the ability of our political class to pander to our desires to get something for nothing is limitless.

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 18, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

What is interesting about that result is that not one American in 10000 know how tiny a tax only fix to Social Security would be. Medicare is a different story but taking Social Security in isolation it faces a 25 year payroll gap of 0.25% of payroll or $125 a year for a household earning $50000. Assuming the employer/employee split that is a reduction in take-home of $62.50 per year or $1.20 a week and proportionally less as you go down the income scale. Under current projections Social Security would need no more changes at all until 2026, which given the substantial uncertainties in the projections over that time frame makes doing the 25 year tweak now and letting the 75 year and infinite future predictions go hang.

Why do you only see numbers aggregated over 75 year and infinite future and never adjusted for inflation in the media? Because Bush's boys, not wanting you to do the math I did above, in 2001 explicitly ruled out any tax increase based solution in framing Bush's Commission to Strengthen Social Security. Not because they gave a
crap about worker take-home, no they were perfectly willing to suppress that every other way, no it was they didn't want it to come down to this question:

Work until you are 70? Or buy back those years for a buck week?

Or less if you accompany that by changes in the cap. Social Security isn't broke, it is just a little overdue for it's 20 year tune-up. And a buck a week upgrade.

Posted by: BrucecWebb | October 18, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

**The percentages for each age bracket seem to indicate that additional options were offered, but aren't on the list. **

Looks like there was a "no opinion" option. If you click through the link, it gives the full question/answer choices.

Posted by: davel454 | October 18, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

So people are falling for the "Scare Campaign" by Repugs and sudden Deficit Hawks.

Social Security will be fine - with just a few minor changes.

* 63% of Americans favor lifting Social Security payroll tax cap on incomes higher than $106,800. (CAF poll by Democracy Corps)
* 65% of Americans favor gradually lifting Social Security payroll tax cap on incomes higher than $106,800 as a solvency measure. (Social Security Works poll by Lake Research)

I am glad that there are better and more realistic polls besides the scare-question Gallup type.

Rational people know that we need to raise the Soc Sec wage cap.

Posted by: fair001 | October 18, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

"Americans prefer tax increases *on other people* to benefit cuts."

That wasn't asked.

Posted by: B405 | October 18, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I guess I'm part of the 18% who answered "no" to the first question. For starters, Social Security is not going to cause major economic problems. Indeed, cuts to Social Security would cause more problems than preserving benefits at the current level for the next 30 years.
The word "cost" isn't entirely appropriate for a wealth transfer program like Social Security. Social Security has costs and benefits, and you cannot simply separate the two.
Medicare is a different story, but that's more about the spiraling costs of health care than about the relative benefits of small government vs. big government. Until those costs are contained, either they will be paid for privately or publicly, unless society collectively decides that health care for the elderly has become insupportably expensive.

Posted by: rick_desper | October 18, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Encouraging results from the 18-29 cohort. I am hoping this means there is some realization that programs like Social Security and Medicare benefit many younger folks directly by freeing them from the costs of supporting their parents in old age. It establishes support of the elderly as an obligation of the whole society, rather than imposing it at random based on whether or not your parents are long or short lived, healthy or ill, fiscally prudent or lifelong spendthrifts, all issues over which you have absolutely not control. For example, my parents both died suddenly in their early '60's of massive heart attacks, no end of life expenses involved. In contrast, both my husband's parents spent their final years in nursing homes as as demented, drooling, diaper wearing nonagenerians before they finally checked out. If we had to empty out our retirement savings and deny our children college educations in order to support his parents, it would have destroyed our lives, to say nothing of our marriage. Modern, civilized societies share costs which cannot reasonably be prepared for by individual members. Unfortunately, 'modern' and 'civilized' are rapidly becoming inapplicable as descriptions of the U.S.

Posted by: guesswhosue | October 18, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse


"That wasn't asked."

It wasn't asked, but the fact that Americans are comfortable taxing other people for their own benefit is well known. Please see fair001's comment for details.

Posted by: justin84 | October 18, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

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