If there was one thing that Americans could agree upon this year, it was that the deficit and government spending are out of control. Bailouts! Food stamps! Earmarks! "Stop this at once," the voters said, in unison, as they swept dozens upon dozens of thrifty tea partiers into Congress. In fact, two-thirds of voters, according to a new NBC/WSJ poll, said that support for spending cuts was a "major" reason they voted for a particular candidate. So they've got the general urge to cut, but it's the next step, the actual cutting, where things start to fall apart.
Seventy percent of adults are opposed to cuts in Medicare, Social Security, or defense, that same poll confirms. Unfortunately, those three things constitute over half of the federal budget, which is why the chairmen of the Deficit Commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, targeted them in their recent report. A majority of Americans are also opposed to increasing certain taxes, like gas taxes, or gradually raising the Social Security retirement age, two other proposals from the Simpson and Bowles report.
"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," pollster Peter Hart says. The only hope for actually reducing the deficit, then, is for Congress to ignore the will of the people on spending issues as readily as it does for "don't ask, don't tell" and nuclear-weapons treaties.