Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 26, 2011

AMERICANS REALLY DON'T CARE FOR SPENDING CUTS.... About a week ago, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the right-wing Republican Study Committee, boasted, "I have never seen the American people more receptive, more ready for the tough-love measures that need to be taken to help fix the country." And by "tough love," Jordan meant making devastating cuts to domestic spending.

It's hard to gauge GOP officials' sincerity with confidence, but I suspect they genuinely believe Americans just love spending cuts. Republicans seem absolutely convinced that they lost their majority in 2006 in part because they spent so freely, and made big gains in 2010 thanks to an anti-spending platform. If the GOP takes a hatchet to the budget, the party expects to be richly rewarded.

The problem, of course, is that much of the public tends to approve of spending cuts in the abstract -- and only in the abstract.

Prior to the State of the Union address, a majority of Americans said they favor cutting U.S. foreign aid, but more than 6 in 10 opposed cuts to education, Social Security, and Medicare. Smaller majorities objected to cutting programs for the poor, national defense, homeland security, aid to farmers, and funding for the arts and sciences.

This might be the most discouraging poll for Republicans in a very long time. Last week, Gallup asked respondents to say whether they "favor or oppose cutting government spending" in a variety of areas. A majority opposed cuts to everything -- literally, everything -- except foreign aid. A 52% majority even opposed cuts to funding for the arts. A whopping 67% opposes cuts to education -- which happens to be one of the main targets for congressional Republicans.

There are some partisan differences, not surprisingly, but Gallup also found that even most self-identified Republican voters also opposed cuts to farmers, domestic security, defense, combating poverty, Medicare, education, and Social Security.

As for foreign aid -- the only area of the budget both Democrats and Republicans are willing to cut -- it's worth emphasizing that most Americans vastly overstate how much we currently spend in this area. Recent research from the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that the public thinks roughly 25% of the budget goes to foreign aid, while the truth is about 1%.

So to review, Americans say they want spending cuts, until confronted with options, at which point they only want to cut foreign aid, which is only a tiny sliver of the budget.

Good luck, Congress.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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To quote the legendary Colonel Sherman T. Potter...horse hockey.

Anyone who thinks Republicans wouldn't spend like drunken sailors the nanosecond they got control of all three branches of government again is...a Republican, I suppose.

Posted by: slappy magoo on January 26, 2011 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

And the Republicans will not be interested in cutting any foreign aid to Israel, which happens to be the primary beneficiary of such aid.

What will they do?


Alan Tomlinson

Posted by: Alan Tomlinson on January 26, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

When they run polls like these, do they ever ask, after all the No's, "What _do_ you believe the government should cut?"

Think of the rhetorical difference between being asked if the government should cut "programs for the poor" and being asked if the government should cut "welfare." The former sounds generous and virtuous to someone in need. The latter sounds like a giveaway to a lazy, ungrateful bastard.

IMHO there are _millions_ of Americans who don't want government to stop spending money on worthwhile things that help people... they want it to stop spending money on "waste," "fraud," "slush funds," "pork," etc. They think that's a huge chunk of where the money goes--probably the majority of the money when a Democrat is in power.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on January 26, 2011 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I've done polls on the "foreign aid" question, and the issue behind the disconnect is fairly simple:

Voters classify many things that Villagers consider "defense spending" or "diplomacy" to be foreign aid.

Most people-- very sensibly, I think-- feel that if the US builds a military base in the country, that's a form of aid. So is a treaty saying "We'll defend you if you're attacked." Selling weapons systems also counts.

Arguing that these things don't aid the country who receives them strikes me as pedantic. Whether they're necessary/desirable can be argued, but it is spending and it could, in theory, be cut.

We asked, and voters also consider the UN, the World Bank and a lot of other programs that are independent, to be foreign aid-- feeling these things are pretty much U.S. puppets. This is an error, in that they aren't funded by taxes, but one doesn't see anything established at Bretton Woods flagrantly defying U.S. wishes.

Voters also see trade policy and tariffs as a form of aid.

Yes, a lot of people think Saddam Hussein attacked the U.S. on 9/11 and I'm not suggesting that Fox News isn't to blame for the level of misinformation floating around. But the debate about foreign aid-- and that misidentification-- has existed since the 1960's.

It would be nice to see a discussion begin with "What IS Foreign Aid?" and not with a smug recitation of a few line items in the budget.

Posted by: Woodrow L. Goode, IV on January 26, 2011 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

To put it another way: the Gallup question only lists 9 things:

1. Foreign aid
2. Funding for arts and sciences
3. Aid to farmers
4. Homeland security
5. Military and national defense
6. Anti-poverty programs
7. Medicare
8. Social Security
9. Education

The results of the poll seem to me to suggest that pretty much across the board people believe that the government does too much that doesn't qualify as one of these 9 things, and that they should cut that instead.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on January 26, 2011 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

There are little bits of every program which could be streamlined, but that takes time and effort and doesn't make good news. It doesn't win elections.

Posted by: Jam on January 26, 2011 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

@ Woodrow, I'm surprised you have found people to have that sophisticated an understand of "foreign aid." In my experience, people use "foreign aid" to mean something like "welfare for crappy countries." The US government should stop cutting checks to these backwater nations, the thinking goes, because it's not our problem and, anyway, it doesn't make it to the people, just the corrupt governments "they" have "there."

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on January 26, 2011 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

My family (your average uninformed Conservatives) and I have this type of diuscussion on a frequent basis. Especially my gun-loving, Tea Party express Uncles.

For them the focus tends to be on welfare and government employees. Oh, they'll talk about Social Security and Medicare. . . until I mention that their Mother (my grandma) requires it to live. Could they afford to pay for her living expenses and medical bills? Could all three of us together do that? Of course not.

"Well, some people need help, but most people who get assistance are frauds and welfare queens," Is their usual response.

Then they complain about Government employees and how big all of the government agencies are (blah, blah, blah). I suppose this is a good time to mention that both Uncles are Vets and one of the works at a Post Office.

Or, well, he DID work at a Post Office. . . until the recent Cutting in that are closed down that branch and left him unemployed.

So now he complains about too much government spending AND how they ruthlessly ended his career (at once, which is quite amazing to me). Of course, he also draws unemployment benefits now, but if I mention that to him, well, he gets rather upset. ;-)

The point is that (as Steve mentioned in a slightly different context recently) Republicans are all for cuts. . . AS LONG AS IT DOESN'T AFFECT THEM.

See, I have this philosophy that one of the worst habits of our species is our tendancy to build walls between "Us" and "Them", and Repugs FEED off of that habit. They encourage it. Hell, they make up "Thems" for us to hate when they run out of actual people to demonize (see Death Panels for example). Truth is, we're all individual humans who are (at once) unique solitary agents, and also a part of the interconnected world that we share.

My Uncles, poor guys, won't even try to contemplate an idea as profound as that. Most of the people (voters and politicians both) are exactly like my Uncles. I pity them, for sure, but they are also a danger to everything.

Posted by: Mitch on January 26, 2011 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Most Americans probably think that W's Excellent Adventures in the Mideast are foreign aid, when in fact they are military expenses. I suspect the true cost of these (incl knock on effects) is in fact > 200B per year, of which something like half is admitted----and that bit is off budget, being an "emergency" expense. With a stupid electorate and one national party led by paranoiacs, fools and liars, this doesn't look to have a good outcome.

Posted by: vhh on January 26, 2011 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

"This might be the most discouraging poll for Republicans in a very long time. "

Does it matter? Republicans going against what the public wants only matters if the media actually reports what the Republicans do and the public actually decides it cares. Will people actually become aware that Republicans want to cut all these things they support, and that voting for Republicans again means things they support will get cut? Or will they walk into the voting booth in 2012 with some kind of vague, abstract idea about "spending" and know that the Republicans are against "spending" and Obama is for it?

Posted by: mcc on January 26, 2011 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK
There are little bits of every program which could be streamlined, but that takes time and effort and doesn't make good news.

Perhaps more importantly, effective streamlining often requires (1) continuing funding to do the ongoing work at current levels, and (2) providing additional funding to do the additional work of identifying efficiencies.

Paradoxically, improving processes often requires having slack capacity to start with.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 26, 2011 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Once again I'm inclined to point out how utterly meaningless these poll are to Republicans. They fully understand that the only poll that matters is the one on election day. For the past two years virtually every action taken by Republicans in congress has been the opposite of the polls say American's want. And yet the Republicans scored major victories on election day.

Democrats need to stop thinking daily polls and think how to WIN in Nov 2012. F*(k the daily polls and focus on creating conditions that ensure your people show up in Nov. That's what Republicans do and it works for them.

Posted by: thorin-1 on January 26, 2011 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, Jordan is sooooo concerned about cutting spending that one of his first measures will be to ban Gay Marriage in DC.

Posted by: berttheclock on January 26, 2011 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Withdrawing our forces from unfunded wars would solve a great deal.

prez obama could have actually ended the tax cuts as that "hopey-changey" guy that ran against senile mclame proclaimed he would do.

The historic losses in 2010 are a direct result of obamarahma throwing his core constituency under the bus in the first place.

Posted by: minot on January 26, 2011 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

@Flip: I wouldn't say our responses showed a HIGHLY sophisticated understanding. We didn't ask, but I'd bet most people believed we had more than 35,000 troops in Japan, of 37,000 in South Korea. But if you have a relative who's stationed there-- or in Germany or Qatar-- you're gonna know.

People who've lost jobs to outsourcing know it's related to trade policy. The tariff has been an issue in politics going back to the 19th century.

Screaming about IMF and the World Bank didn't begin with Bono. That goes back to the 50's and 60's.

A growing number of voters believe that we can't trust the budget figures-- that asterisks and slushfunds are used to redirect/launder money. I'm sure that is overblown-- but investigative reporting (the recent POST Series on domestic spying) has shown it occurs.

It would be nice if the Village would take on this issue, because right now the fringes on both ends are doing all the talking about it.

Posted by: Woodrow L. Goode, IV on January 26, 2011 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

To follow on from Mitch -- someone we know brands himself as a republican, and wants less spending. Currently he is a student, with a wife and a small kid. The kid is, of course, on SCHIP health care, and delivery etc funded by medicaid. They are thinking of having kid #2, under the same funding stream ....

He is currently being paid from a federally funded grant ... so that our intellectual infrastructure is improved. But he has no concept that his family directly benefits from "programs that need to be cut" ....

Posted by: bigtuna on January 26, 2011 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who thinks Republicans wouldn't spend like drunken sailors the nanosecond they got control of all three branches of government again is...a Republican, I suppose.

Spend like drunken sailors again, you mean. We've seen so-called "Republican fiscal discipline" in the Bush Administration, which, along with a Republican Congress, among other things fought two wars on the national credit card.

One of the more annoying failings of the so-called "liberal media" is that they allow Republicans to pose as "fiscally responsible" or "deficit hawks" after the shameful record they ran up when they were in charge of the nations' purse strings.

Posted by: Gregory on January 26, 2011 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of polls, NewsMax frequently has online polls. I took one, and their multiple-choice answers are hilarious. One question asked what the federal budget priorities for the next two years should be. There were four choices offered: (1) Cut spending. (2) Cut taxes. (3) Pay down the federal debt. (4) Increase spending on security.

The option of increased spending on non-military was not available, nor was the option of cutting military spending specifically, nor was the option of raising taxes on the wealthiest.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on January 26, 2011 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

It's not surprising that the Republican base and most voters don't really what what *actually* would have to be done to carry into effect the Republican plans, because that party bases its action on deception about the options and their results. How they're going to wrangle the contradictions is hard to see, but so many of the public are manipulable idiots and will vote for them anyway regardless - so it's up in the air whether they pay any price for it.

Posted by: neil b on January 26, 2011 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

I think the Republicans (at least the leaders of the caucus) understand very well that the public likes the idea of spending cuts in the abstract, but won't stand for spending cuts in reality. As a practical matter, the strategy is to get the other guy (i.e., the President) to have to suggest the cuts. This is what informs all the maneuvering around a balanced budget amendment, and all the talk about government shutdowns. The Prez will submit a budget, the republicans will say it doesn't go far enough, and send it back to the White House. The actual house leadership don't want their fingerprints on anything that makes hard choices. Notice how the budget cuts suggested by that one Republican group landed with a thud in the Repub caucus.

Posted by: Bob on January 26, 2011 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

It's time Dems, and Americans more generally, started including all defense-related spending in the 'foreign aid' category, then start slashing it.

Posted by: Seould on January 26, 2011 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

And here we are discussing cuts in an economic disaster. We need the goddamned corporations to pay back the taxpayers and government for the security and prosperity they enjoy. If a corporation does not invest in people and hiring Americans, it should be hit with massive taxes and tarriffs for goods imported back into the smoking hole they abandoned by moving factories. At least most government spending stays in the country. Wallstreet and the irresponsible corporations get a pass when we should be savaging thier asses every day in the media.

Posted by: Sparko on January 26, 2011 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

First the GOP tells us they were elected to repeal the health care law. Then it was immigration. Then it was about waging a culture war. Now its about spending cuts. What happened to creating jobs? These clowns are going to get rebooted in 2012 and deservedly so.

Posted by: max on January 26, 2011 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno Max, there are a lot of scared, stupid, rich people in the USA. This is the country that allowed Der Monkey to squat in the WH for 8 years after all.

But I hope you are right.

Posted by: don on January 27, 2011 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

"A 52% majority even opposed cuts to funding for the arts."

I wish. They opposed cuts for "the arts and sciences."

I would be surprised if the arts alone fared as well.

Posted by: Dabodius on January 27, 2011 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

[quote]Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 14-16, 2011, with a random sample of 1,032 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

Caller ID negates these results and most other poll results, this should read of people so lonely that they are willing to talk to unknown 800 coded numbers that appear on their caller ID.

Posted by: Wowzers on January 27, 2011 at 5:15 AM | PERMALINK

I'll bet a lot of americans believe that their foreign aid is the only thing keeping the rest of the world alive. It would be in keeping with the odd mix of ignorance/isolation/arrogance.

Posted by: HMDK on January 28, 2011 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK



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