Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How To Cut The Federal Deficit

A CBS news poll asks its respondents for advice on how to reduce the federal deficit, but the advice isn't that great. For example, while 77% of the respondents prefer cutting spending, most of them don't want to say what could be cut:
Yet most Americans could not volunteer a program they'd be willing to see cut in order to reduce the deficit - only 38 percent could name a program they would support cutting. The top responses were military/defense (six percent), Social Security/Medicare (four percent) and welfare/food stamps (four percent).

However, Americans are more willing to consider cuts when presented with specific ideas, as the chart above illustrates. The most popular ideas for reducing the deficit are to reduce Social Security benefits for the wealthy, reduce the money allocated to projects in their own community, reduce farm subsidies and reduce defense spending. More than 50 percent supported reductions in each of those programs.
That's true overall. However, among the Republican respondents the following proposals also got more than 50% support: reduce money for student loans and raise retirement age, and only 39% of the Republican respondents supported reductions on defense spending. Likewise, only 48% of the Democratic respondents supported reducing the money allocated to projects in their own community.

What I found especially interesting in this survey are the questions which ask what slice of the federal budget goes to various uses:
Most Americans do not know exactly how the government spends its money. For example, when asked what percent of the budget goes to earmarks, 41 percent said they make up less than 20 percent of the budget, 13 percent said 20-50 percent, 4 percent said more than 50 percent and 42 percent didn't know. Earmarks actually make up less than one percent of the budget.
From the survey pdf:
A third of Americans think that 20% or more of the federal budget is spent on welfare; just one in 10 thinks less than 5% of the budget is spent on that. Three in 10 Americans think 20% or more of the budget is allocated toward foreign aid. Social Security comprises 20% of the actual budget; half of Americans think it is less than that amount. 37% think Medicare and Medicaid are 20% or more of the budget; 42% of Americans think it is less than that.
After reading that I had to brush up on my own knowledge in that area:

An excellent picture of the federal budget is provided by the New York Times. It shows the budget as a rectangle and its parts as smaller rectangles and squares. If you run your mouse over the picture precise information on the individual parts crops up.