The American people will have to make some tough choices to rein in the growing debt problem. Unfortunately, many Americans, recent polls show, are only willing to make those decisions so long as spending cuts or tax hikes don’t affect them. Regrettably, the belief that pulling off the deficit “band-aid” will not hurt is a myth – to address the problem, shared sacrifice will be required.
An article by David Leonhardt uses fresh polling data to highlight this conundrum. The good news is that Americans, according to the poll, believe that the federal deficit is a serious problem, and that we must act immediately.
Given a choice, Americans prefer that we cut our way out of the problem, instead of raising revenue through unpopular taxes. Yet, when asked specifically about cutting spending in major entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, a wide majority changed their views and suddenly wanted higher payroll taxes in order to maintain current benefit levels.
A different poll, discussed by Concord Coalition Chief Economist Diane Lim Rogers, backs up this stark disconnect, revealing that only 20 percent of respondents supported cutting Social Security benefits, 23 percent approved of cuts to Medicare and 24 percent thought the country should cut education spending.
There are several problems with these beliefs, however, which Leonhardt accurately identifies.
First and foremost, solving the deficit problem will necessarily involve sacrifice from nearly all Americans. We can neither solely cut spending, nor rely 100% on tax increases; we must pursue both. We cannot maintain benefit levels for major entitlement programs without raising revenue or cutting spending elsewhere. This math is unfaltering, and as sobering as it may be, many Americans will feel the burden of solving our budget problem.
The second, and perhaps larger problem, is that the American public, while cognizant of the severity of the problem, has not fully grasped what a practical solution entails. These polls suggest that they don’t want cuts in benefits, and they don’t want higher taxes. The connection, it appears, between the severity of the problem and the impact of any effective solution has not yet been reached.
There is good news to be had, however. The problem is not impossible to solve, and there are many viable plans – including the BPC’s own plan, Restoring America’s Future – to choose from.
Furthermore, the same polls also showed that the public is willing, given clear options, to choose between necessary cuts and increases in revenue. Once the connection is made, in other words, the American people appear willing to make some of the necessary tough choices. That’s good – because the band-aid needs to come off sooner rather than later.
Christopher Hildebrand contributed to this post.