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Deficit of Intelligence

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll provides an interesting view into the minds of Americans.

Several polls in the past have shown that a majority of Americans want to cut the deficit, even during hard economic times.

However, when asked how they would cut the deficit, 70% were against making any cuts to programs such as Medicare, Social Security, or defense. And 60% were against raising taxes. Since Medicare, Social Security, and defense make up the vast majority of the federal budget (not counting things like interest payments on the debt, which cannot be cut), this basically means that people want to cut the deficit, but they want the spending to continue and they don’t want to have to pay for it.

One of the pollsters who conducted the survey summed it up: “Everybody wants to cut the deficit and cut the spending. But at the end of the day, everybody wants a choice that doesn’t affect their well-being.”

Also ironic was that when asked about the recent bipartisan proposal to reduce the deficit, more Republicans opposed the plan than Democrats. So are the Republicans actually interested in cutting the deficit, or are they just using it as a partisan attack?

© Tom Toles



  1. Jeff wrote:

    People don’t want to see their taxes go up, but will scream about how the government is wasting money it doesn’t have. One solution would be to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the top 2%, another is to legalize drugs like Marijuana and tax it heavily (California alone could probably put away half the deficit on its own if that were to happen), and finally we can cut defense spending by a small percentage and take the money right out of the budget.

    I think/hope the final plan is something of a combination of tax increases for the rich and spending cuts on our biggest program. Anything else is like putting two drops of gas in an empty tank: It might get you going, but it’ll die pretty quick.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 6:17 am | Permalink
  2. starluna wrote:

    I’m not sure that “spending cuts on our biggest programs” is a productive guiding principle. In 1995, I was working for LA County when the financial guano hit the fan. The Board of Supervisors looked at the budget and decided that because the Department of Health Services was the biggest piece of the pie, that is where they needed to go to balance the budget. Hospital budgets were cut, public health services and programs were closed, and some of the clinics were “privatized.” The result: preventable diseases increased, the county was left with only 1 burn center, and those newly privatized clinics refused to see Medicaid patients (because they were never required to). My clinic was overwhelmed with patients who used to be seen in other areas but had nowhere left to go for health care. In the end, the “cuts” ended costing the County more money in increased emergency room use and larger numbers of sicker patients requiring more expensive treatments. Under CA law, the counties were required to maintain a minimum level of health care services for the indigent and Medicaid recipients. And LA County did that fairly well, until 1995.

    The main reason why LA County suffered a budget shortfall that year: the state government refused to return to the County its share of sales tax revenue in order to balance the state budget.

    For me, the lesson learned is, the biggest part of the budget is not always the problem with the budget.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    Hear hear! Excellent example Starluna. I’ve seen this happen over and over again. The Brits even have a name for it: “penny wise, pound foolish”.

    My mother actually ran a research project in California in the 60’s where they followed up on disadvantaged children who went through Headstart programs compared to children who didn’t. She found that Headstart *saved* money (more than paid for itself by reducing the need for other services later on). Then of course, Reagan was elected governor and cut Headstart.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  4. Mad Hatter wrote:

    Ahhhh….Reagan. You know, when the historians that aren’t yet born study and write about the period from 1980 to ??, I’m pretty sure that they will mark the beginning of the decline of the U.S.A. with the ascendance of good old Ronnie.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink
  5. Iron Knee wrote:

    Interesting site: Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength.

    We have done very well over the last several years. Now, during our nation’s moment of need, we are eager to do our fair share. We don’t need more tax cuts, and we understand that cutting our taxes will increase the deficit and the debt burden carried by other taxpayers. The country needs to meet its financial obligations in a just and responsible way.
    Letting tax cuts for incomes over $1,000,000 expire, is an important step in that direction.

    I signed up.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee: Thank you for signing up.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  7. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    StarLuna et alia: almost everyone who actually works in the “front lines” of providing what government is supposed to provide, knows that “sound-bite favored” budget cuts almost always create higher costs somewhere else in the system. Education, medical care, incarceration, etc. Isn’t there some way that this message can be disseminated and actually heard? Doctrinaire “conservatives” seem to be able to get their “message” out loud and clear, how can the other voices be heard to effect?

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    Unfortunately, it will probably be difficult to get massive corporate donations to get that message out.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  9. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    You did have to remind me of that, didn’t you! 🙂

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  10. ebdoug wrote:

    If those over 250K voted for obama more than they voted for McCain=46% to 41%, I think that Jeff can’t say that rich don’t want their taxes to go up. It is fiscal responsibility on their part.
    I see, IK that your mother was in CA when I was seeing the destruction of CA by Reagan. Where would CA be now if he hadn’t eliminated those programs? She probably didn’t vote for him for president either. I was so shocked when he was elected for Governor. Wasn’t my vote in CA at the time that elected him.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  11. Jason Ray wrote:

    It is possible to balance the budget, but not if you leave Medicare, Social Security and Defense off the table.

    Starluna makes the exact point for a real solution – I’ve said before, the best answers are found in re-engineering programs and processes rather than just increasing or decreasing their funding. I have no doubt that taxpayers could spend 20% less, and receive 20% more, benefits than we do today if we could restructure how our system delivers those benefits. Unfortunately, re-engineering is hard work and the existing bureaucracy will fight it tooth and nail since it will definitely cause substantial changes and (on average) 30% of the existing workforce will not survive the process due to lack of skills, inability to learn, unwillingness to go through the process, or because their functions would be eliminated.

    These polls, though, make it clear that a large percentage of our citizens don’t support (or understand) what will be necessary. This is the kind of problem where we need leaders – because if something concrete it put forward that shows the costs and benefits a majority might support it, but in the abstract no majority will go on record agreeing to anything.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Permalink
  12. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    JR — Now that gets to the point of why real changes will not occur!

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  13. Iron Knee wrote:

    Naw, real changes will occur … eventually. It may take our country going bankrupt and our economy completely collapsing. It’s like preventative medicine — if you don’t fix a problem now for a little money and pain, you will eventually fix it for a lot of money and pain (or die).

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink
  14. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    Rats! And I was trying to avoid considering the worst case scenario!

    Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink