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Posted at 11:44 AM ET, 03/ 3/2011

How Americans want -- and don't want -- to balance the budget

By Ezra Klein

The quick version of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll everyone is talking about: Voters don't like deficits or most of the things that have to be done to reduce deficits. They disapprove of cutting most government programs but sometimes approve of them if they're not phrased as program cuts. If something does have to be done to reduce the deficit, they'd prefer to see it done to rich people, rich corporations or the military.

But who wants words when you can have graphs? In one question, the pollsters listed 14 government programs and asked respondents if cuts would be acceptable or unacceptable. In all but four cases, a majority called cuts unacceptable:

programcutspoll.jpg

As you'll note, the largest majorities were aligned against cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, K-12 education and Social Security -- the major social welfare functions of the government, and where much of the money is. The next question listed 12 actions that could be taken to reduce deficits and asked voters whether they were acceptable. When phrased this way, most options were acceptable -- including options that meant large cuts to programs:

deficitrecutionoptions.jpg

This all ends up being a little incoherent. Cuts to K-12 education and Medicaid are extremely unpopular, but cuts to state subsidies -- which largely go to support K-12 education and Medicaid -- are popular. Cutting funding for the Affordable Care Act is less popular than I would've thought given the program's poor poll numbers, and voucherizing Medicare, which is the core of Paul Ryan's plan for entitlement reform, is the most unpopular idea on the list (and that's before people realize that the real savings come from offering vouchers that won't be large enough to purchase insurance).

Does this poll offer a clear political path toward a balanced budget? Not at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. But it does suggest that revenue -- particularly from the rich -- will be part of the eventual solution.

By Ezra Klein  | March 3, 2011; 11:44 AM ET
Categories:  Polls  
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Comments

What is really incoherent is that 25% of respondents are not in favor of eliminating UNNECESSARY weapons! What part of 'unnecessary' don't they understand? I think the proper moral of such polls is that polling is not an exact science.

Posted by: hunterda98 | March 3, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

perhaps someone could explain to me, why we are pricking and pinching at only domestic programs, when we are financing two wars, and periodically hear about the exorbitant and graft-ridden, preferential and clandestine defense spending contractors....the billions that seem to evade accountability to Xe/blackwater, that seem to be morally autonomous and out of the gaze of martial jurisdiction.
what about foreign aid?
why arent they looking at massive cutbacks in foreign aid?
how much of it is effective spending?
ten days of not giving aid to israel, could give the detroit public school system, 100 million dollars. and there are no illegal settlements there...just kids that need teachers, books and clean safe buildings, computers, learning materials and after school programs...and healthy breakfast and lunch programs.
why arent economists tearing apart the numbers for foreign aid...for the endless wars that each administration endlessly finances....why are we trying to defund important programs that make the citizens here, healthier and safer, and better educated.
in more prosperous times, we can be giving more to others, but when our own family is suffering, why arent we drawing down the wars, and the amount we are giving away to others....in order for us to recover.
when we are talking about taking collective bargaining rights away from americans, and slashing the numbers of teachers in classrooms, and looking to repeal health care....it's time to look at how much we are spending abroad.
maybe i am missing something. but it seems like the sensible thing to do.

Posted by: jkaren | March 3, 2011 12:09 PM | Report abuse

This will be a test of how well advertising and messaging by republicans can turn taxing the rich into something bad for the middle class. They will never tax their beloved 1%,they would rather hurt poor people first.

Posted by: EducatingTheFools | March 3, 2011 12:09 PM | Report abuse

and i wonder how many pockets of politicians and bureaucrats and wealthy people we line, abroad....money that helps no-one...when it can be helping people right here.
why arent we looking at that, instead of school lunch programs?

Posted by: jkaren | March 3, 2011 12:11 PM | Report abuse

"What is really incoherent is that 25% of respondents are not in favor of eliminating UNNECESSARY weapons! What part of 'unnecessary' don't they understand?"

That probably reflects some discomfort about what would be considered "unnecessary".

Posted by: justin84 | March 3, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Let's see: Would you like to enjoy a service and not have to pay for it? Yes, or No?

That's the intelligence level of all these push-polls conducted to bolster Democrat talking points that spending cuts aren't doable. Sorry, spending cuts will happen. These paltry $61 billions occupying so much ink are a ridiculous spit in the ocean.

I've yet to hear a coherent argument given why we should not transfer the spending responsibility of the Departments of Education, HHS, HUD, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, and Energy to the States? That's over 30% of the budget that Republicans could cut and send to the fiscal entities that MUST balance their budgets because they cannot rely on the Federal Reserve.

Leave Depts. of Justice, Defense, and State, FAA, CDC, FDA, court system, Medicare, and Social Security for the federal level. We could almost balance the budget if federal government limited its scope. For the next 30 years, taxes will have to be raised just to pay for this subset of today's fedral budget.

Other than concentrating political power, there are no good-government arguments for the federal government accreting all these powers from the state.

Posted by: ElGipper | March 3, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

There is a pretty clear path: increasing revenue. Oddly enough, other than themillionaire's tax, none of the options on offer in this nominally-neutral poll seem to have had much to say about that.

Posted by: paul314 | March 3, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

The number on cutting ACA is quite consistent with the poll numbers, which are not as "poor" as you keep saying. About 50% have consistently supported it or wanted expansion, hence they do not want cuts. Here, about 50% want cuts, which fits just right.

Seems to me this does provide as clear a path to a balanced budget as you could expect from public polling. Raise taxes on the rich, keep entitlements as is. That would probably work, for everything except Medicare/Medicaid. (It's interesting though not surprising that more would cut Medicaid.)

What's missing is medical cost containment. I'm not sure why you think people don't know that voucherizing is a codeword for cutting benefits. They saw through privatizing Social Security pretty quick.

But if you don't cut benefits then you've got to control costs. No one is facing up to what that means. Ultimately it can't be done without some version of single-payer.

Posted by: jtmiller42 | March 3, 2011 12:36 PM | Report abuse

ElGipper: I don't think you know what "push-polling" means. This was conducted by a Democrat/Republican pair. None of the questions are "push" questions; did you even read the poll before you jumped on to comment?

Your suggestions are absurd. The states are no more financially able to handle the immense jobs of those agencies you listed, and in fact their budget shortfalls would only guarantee that every single function of those agencies would evaporate immediately if relegated to the states.

Instead of cutting those agencies, which is what your suggestion amounts to, we could trim a portion of our defense spending and (as noted somewhat incoherently above) the massive graft accompanying our overseas wars. That alone would swing the budget right around.

Posted by: samslaw25 | March 3, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I don't think these results are incoherent. They just show that most people have a perfectly reasonable ignorance of legislative and budget details. After all, we elect people to deal with those things. Of course, the ignorance is compounded just by partisan PR designed to keep voters confused.

In addition, It seems that some political geeks assume that voters understand terms (e.g., "foreign aid") in the same way that the pros do, whereas others use voters' confusion to mislead.

I think that something like that is going on here. The poll asks about "state subsidies", "Medicaid" and "K-12 education" separately. It is more than reasonable for a non-specialist to think that these are questions about different things rather than categories and sub-categories.

If the poll is trying to understand the confusion in voters minds, then this is perfectly reasonable approach - and the organization that commissioned the poll should be trying to remedy the confusion.
If it is about marketing advice for political parties I have to wonder why a general news organization would publish it, except as a corrective.
If, on the other hand, it purports to illuminate voters' actual preferences then it is misleading. It might even be argued that it is intentionally misleading.

Posted by: bill_who | March 3, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

"But it does suggest that revenue -- particularly from the rich -- will be part of the eventual solution."

By eventually do you mean in the next 20 years?

Economy is crashing -- can't raise taxes! That will send us into a depression!
Economy is stagnant -- can't raise taxes! That will send us into a recession!
Economy is growing -- can't raise taxes! That will hamper the growth!
Economy is strong -- can't raise taxes! We're already taking in more money than we need to! In fact, we should cut them further! Clearly taxes are too high.

Posted by: will12 | March 3, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

About the millionaire's tax. If you listen to the talk radio shows* you will hear some drivel about punishing success. How about we talk of it as protection money. In any other country other than the elites of a oligarchy or dictatorship, those rich would have had their assets taxed much higher or seized. So by living here we are protecting them from what other countries would do to them.

I suggest increasing SS maximums to 10 million per year. A 5% surcharge on incomes from 1-10 million, 7& for incomes from 10-50 million and 10% surcharge up to 1 billion. That should fix some issues.

And take 90% of a person's assets if they own 1 million in assets and choose to renounce their citizenship.

* (its getting harder for me, and I used to be a conservative until I became unemployed )

Posted by: EducatingTheFools | March 3, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

This is what "angry birds" will do to a nation.

The deficit?
What was that again?
Oh, I don't know, something about a lizard.

Posted by: willows1 | March 3, 2011 12:50 PM | Report abuse

"Cuts to K-12 education and Medicaid are extremely unpopular, but cuts to state subsidies -- which largely go to support K-12 education and Medicaid -- are popular."

Yes, but does the average person know that? We're asking the population its opinions on facts it doesn't even understand.

Considering how badly people estimate the state of inequality, I also wonder how answers would change if they were shown the true state of inequality in the US before they answered anything.

Posted by: Nylund154 | March 3, 2011 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Let's reduce the defense budget by calling overseas bases and operations "foreign aid"!

Posted by: Hazelite | March 3, 2011 1:27 PM | Report abuse

samslaw25:

States don't pay taxes. Taxpayers pay taxes. The "affordability" of government at all levels is determined by the aggregate tax burden on taxpayers. So yes, many states will slash Medicaid. Many states won't replace whatever the Dept. of Education in DC was funding in their own state. I doubt Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska taxpayers will continue agricultural subsidies for their farmers at the current rates. Those high-speed rail projects, AMTRACK, Corp for Public Broadcasting, and host of other boondoggles will likely be put to sleep. Export subsidies are likely to get the green eye shade brush off. However, States will retain some of the programs, albeit at reduced levels -- e.g. Medicaid.

But Democrats should like my suggestion because its likely taxes at the state level would increase to accomodate their new responsibilities.

As for push polling, perhaps you missed the first sentence of my post. The premise of these polling questions are inane. Whether or not a Republican decided to co-sponsor the polling because he needed the money doesn't change the inherent stupidity of doing polling on a constrained optimization problem.

Posted by: ElGipper | March 3, 2011 1:29 PM | Report abuse

--*This all ends up being a little incoherent.*--

That incoherence is your bread and butter, Klein. How does it feel to make a living out of playing your fellows for saps?

Oh, that's right, the Washington Post, as part of Kaplan U., is way down in the muck of education fraud and propaganda...

//cite
“Here’s how the Washington Post Company makes billions of dollars: Veterans, single moms, and working parents are lured in by admissions counselors at Kaplan University Online,” wrote Change.org Executive Editor Judith Meskill.

The release said that, “Students use federal loans to sign up for classes that can be 14 times more expensive than a comparable community college class.

“It’s basically a scam. Sixty-nine percent of students drop out. A third of students default on their loans, meaning taxpayers are stuck with the bill and the students have their credit destroyed — while Kaplan keeps all the money.”

The release noted that an employee training manual for Kaplan University, acquired by Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harken, reads: “If you can help them uncover their true pain and fear…You dramatically increase your chances of enrolling this prospective student.”
//end cite

http://dailycaller.com/2011/02/24/change-org-aims-to-stir-liberal-rage-against-washington-posts-kaplan-university/

Posted by: msoja | March 3, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

"Economy is crashing -- can't raise taxes! That will send us into a depression!
Economy is stagnant -- can't raise taxes! That will send us into a recession!
Economy is growing -- can't raise taxes! That will hamper the growth!
Economy is strong -- can't raise taxes! We're already taking in more money than we need to! In fact, we should cut them further! Clearly taxes are too high."

Economy is crashing -- can't cut spending! That will send us into a depression!
Economy is stagnant -- can't cut spending! That will send us into a recession!
Economy is growing -- can't cut spending! That will hamper the growth!
Economy is strong -- can't cut spending! Now we finally have the funds to pay for important investments! I mean seriously, what about the children? Clearly spending is too low.

Posted by: justin84 | March 3, 2011 1:38 PM | Report abuse

“If you can help them uncover their true pain and fear…You dramatically increase your chances of enrolling this prospective student.”


what is wrong with that, msoja?
if students can deal with their testtaking phobias, have greater confidence in their ability to do well, and understand why their ability to learn and acquire studying skills, may be sabotaged by anxiety, and negative learning experiences....i say, "all to the good." there is nothing wrong with helping a student holistically, and if it increases their chances for successful learning, it is a good thing.
personally, i see nothing wrong with that quote at all.
if more schools dealt with anxieties related to learning, competitiveness and test-taking, students might do a lot better, in general.

Posted by: jkaren | March 3, 2011 1:44 PM | Report abuse

if you dont like the way that universities without walls operate, that is a much larger issue than singling out "kaplan,"or any one of a hundred such organizations.
there are many reasons why students choose them.
and since you believe in the individual's right to make their own decisions about everything else...from cigarettes to jelly doughnuts, to healthcare and guns, why cant they choose these kinds of educational places if they wish, and what is wrong, especially in your ideological world, with their existence?

Posted by: jkaren | March 3, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse

"and i wonder how many pockets of politicians and bureaucrats and wealthy people we line, abroad....money that helps no-one...when it can be helping people right here.
why arent we looking at that, instead of school lunch programs?"

That's a good question. Too bad that they money was taken from you and it's no longer up to you to decide how the money will be spent.

"why arent economists tearing apart the numbers for foreign aid...for the endless wars that each administration endlessly finances....why are we trying to defund important programs that make the citizens here, healthier and safer, and better educated."

No idea. In any case, if people were able to keep their own money and use it in a manner consistent with their personal values, I suspect the ratio of spending on hungry kids to spending on endless wars would improve.

Posted by: justin84 | March 3, 2011 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Remember during the election last year how Democrats kept telling us that the Tea Party call for eliminating earmarks would not save any money?

Democrats kept trying to convince us that earmarks didn't spend any money that wouldn't otherwise be spent, but would just change who gets to determine where it's spent from legislative branch to the executive branch.

With that left-wing lie in mind, consider this today:

"You can wave bye-bye to $4 billion in government spending. President Obama signed a budget cutting stop-gap spending bill Wednesday after it sailed through the Senate with ease, garnering 91 votes.
The bill terminates eight government programs, for savings of $1.24 billion, while an additional $2.7 billion in earmarks are eliminated. The remaining $2.7 billion in cuts cover almost 50 different earmark programs that will no longer be funded because House Republicans have instituted a new rule banning that type of spending."
- CNN Money, Mar 3, 2011


How is it, Democrats, that more than half of the $4 billion of cost cuts came from eliminating earmarks if eliminating earmarks don't reduce spending?

Posted by: dbw1 | March 3, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

justin84 - So to-night I'm gonna party likes it's 1799!

Posted by: willows1 | March 3, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Ezra says:

"But it does suggest that revenue -- particularly from the rich -- will be part of the eventual solution."

The above statement presumes that at least one of the political parties in power would form an agenda that is consistent with the will of the people.

The strangely popular budget-busting tax deal during the lame duck session indicates otherwise.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 3, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

--*The strangely popular budget-busting tax deal during the lame duck session indicates otherwise.*--

Yeah, the "rich" got off easy. The top five percent "contribute" what, 50+% of the income tax tab? How horrible.

Posted by: msoja | March 3, 2011 3:11 PM | Report abuse

"justin84 - So to-night I'm gonna party likes it's 1799!"

Um, okay. I'm not sure exactly what that would entail, but enjoy.

Posted by: justin84 | March 3, 2011 4:07 PM | Report abuse

--*what is wrong with that, msoja?*--

It's a scam built on stolen tax dollars. It calls into (further) question the impartiality of the Washington Post.

Posted by: msoja | March 3, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

"The top five percent "contribute" what, 50+% of the income tax tab? How horrible."

Yeah, it really sucks to be rich.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 3, 2011 5:57 PM | Report abuse

--*Yeah, it really sucks to be rich.*--

Are you a shoplifter, Patrick? Those department store owners will never miss it, will they?

Posted by: msoja | March 3, 2011 7:34 PM | Report abuse

No, I'm not a shoplifter. That's a crime.

By the way, we get statutes that outlaw shoplifting the same way that we get statutes that authorize taxation. The people elect representatives who debate and vote on legislation. Occasionally the people decide themselves, via direct referendum.

You may regard democratically elected representative government as an evil conspiracy to purloin your vast fortune, but those of us that support the US Constitution see it somewhat differently.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 3, 2011 10:35 PM | Report abuse

--*[W]e get statutes that outlaw shoplifting the same way that we get statutes that authorize taxation.*--

Do you think shoplifting would be OK if there weren't statutes against it? Do you need laws to tell you the difference between right and wrong?

--*You may regard democratically elected representative government as an evil conspiracy to purloin your vast fortune, but those of us that support the US Constitution see it somewhat differently.*--

Even as you prattle on and on about this way or that way to squeeze more money out of "the rich".

You're lying, Patrick. You want the money, and you're willing to use mob tactics to get it.

Posted by: msoja | March 3, 2011 10:54 PM | Report abuse

The public does not want trade-offs. The public wants it all and fantasizes there are ways to provide more services with less cost to the majority. The public is self-deluded.

Posted by: rgparker | March 4, 2011 2:04 AM | Report abuse

...sigh

no, supporting constitutional law (and the resulting representative democracy) in America does not make one a liar, or a shoplifter.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 4, 2011 5:31 AM | Report abuse

Always interesting Ezra that the teapublicans scream so loudly that they are just doing the will of the American people, when the opinions of the American people are 180 degrees opposed to the Teapublican agenda. What do we need to do to change this dynamic? I guess the key is replacing Congress with one that is not owned by corporate and big money interests, but in an age of routine theft of elections (Florida 200, Ohio 2004) we seem to have little chance.

Posted by: pblotto | March 4, 2011 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Wrong again, wunderkind. "Revenue" (as you understand it with your static tax & spend mentality) will not be part of the solution. Revenue generated by pro-growth policies may be - after the 2012 election. Until then, we in the Conservative Ascendancy (or TEA Party if you prefer shorthand notations) have plenty of time to educate the masses, re: entitlements as Ponzi scheme - just as successfully as we have educated them about demand side stimulus spending as useless boondoggle.

d(^_^)b
http://libertyatstake.blogspot.com/
"Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive"

Posted by: joefigliola1 | March 4, 2011 10:00 PM | Report abuse

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