My Fellow Americans, The Problem Is You

A new Gallup poll, taken before the State Of The Union Address, proves once again that the cause of the Federal Government’s fiscal problems is, in the end, the American people:

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.

In the weeks ahead, Congress and the White House will likely focus on negotiations over government spending and how to cut the federal budget deficit. In addition to broad concerns about the size of the deficit, Congress is under pressure to raise the legal limit on the national debt before U.S. borrowing exceeds the existing limit — or face what Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner describes as “catastrophic economic consequences.” Geithner’s department predicts the current debt ceiling could be exceeded as early as March 31 of this year.

The new Republican leadership in Congress has indicated it will look for progress on deficit reduction before agreeing to raise the federal debt ceiling, and Americans appear to agree with that point in principle. Half of Americans say the limit on the national debt should be raised only if Congress specifies in advance what measures would be taken to reduce the deficit in the future, compared with 16% who think Congress should raise the debt limit regardless. An additional third of Americans have no opinion on the matter.

The real problem, though, comes when you look at what the public is willing to cut from the budget:

That’s right. There’s just one area where a majority of the public supports cuts. It’s foreign aid and it accounts for about $25 billion out of a $3 trillion budget.. In other words, it amounts to nothing. So, don’t blame Washington for our fiscal problems when it’s immensely clear that Congress is just following the wishes of the people that elected them.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    The problem is with the framing of the question. For example, if those being polled had been asked about ending subsidies to major corporations involved in agriculture instead of “aid to farmers” the results would probably have been very different even though both questions relate to agriculture subsidies.

  2. john personna says:

    I’ve been open to basically all spending cuts for the last few years, just because there is no downside to being open. Huge cuts are so unlikely that it makes much more sense to say “yes” immediately, and then see what happens.

    I doubt “funding for the arts and sciences” is a pimple on the butt of the deficit, but I can still say sure, cut them.

    I guess I’m in the minority.

  3. Tano says:

    Glad to see that you finally realize the obvious, Doug. Many of us have known this all along. People hate “spending”, but they support almost all the specific spending that the government does. People want “small government”, but they want the government to actually do all the things that it does, and more.

    Its one thing to “win” the rhetorical game – to get people to nod along with some principle that you espouse. Its quite another to convince them to forgo some benefit that are actually receiving.

    You should rebel against anyone who tries to advance an argument against “spending”. Demand that they provide specifics – stand against particular cuts to particular programs – or else STFU.

  4. Banshee says:

    I think Mr. McGuire has put his finger on the source of the apparent problem. I refuse to believe that government agencies across the board can’t make do with less, or that there aren’t rich veins of fat in current expenditures. The private sector has had to make do. So should the government agencies it supports.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    Of course it’s the people. They’ve been raised since Reagan on a steady diet of magical thinking. The GOP began the systematic lies — Reagan’s magic self-financing tax cuts, Prop 13 in California — and whenever the Democrats start to so much as whisper the truth the GOP/Fox machine lowers the boom with rants about socialism.

    The Democrats are not exactly profiles in courage, but this table was set by Ronald Reagan and his spiritual successors.

    So yes, it’s the fault of the people for lapping up the lies told them by Republicans, and especially their Libertarian wing. So, Doug: mote and beam.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    “…and whenever the Democrats start to so much as whisper the truth the GOP/Fox machine lowers the boom with rants about socialism.”

    And of course the evil “class warfare”…let us not forget that one, as others certainly don’t…

  7. sam says:


    “I doubt “funding for the arts and sciences” is a pimple on the butt of the deficit, but I can still say sure, cut them.”

    But is isn’t the problem here that only the government funds basic research these days?

  8. john personna says:

    But is isn’t the problem here that only the government funds basic research these days?

    It was an interesting grouping, “arts and sciences,” but even in the sciences I’m sure some things can be “deferred.” I think that’s the word to use. For instance, I don’t think that manned space missions have been a good use of our science dollars in the last 20 years. We should have done more, better, cheaper, robotic missions.

    If we can manage life off-planet, we’ll do it better with a better technology base 20 or 50 years from now.

  9. […] As I’ve said before, raising the debt ceiling has always been an incredibly unpopular issue so this is no surprise. The problem for those who would tout a poll like this as evidence of the American public’s fiscal conservatism is that other polls consistently show that there is no public consensus about what kind of spending cuts should be made to avoid fiscal disaste… […]