Wonky

Why The Budget May Be Easier To Criticize Than To Cut

The U.S. Capitol is seen Tuesday, three days before the government sequester is scheduled to begin. It would require $85 billion in across-the-board government spending cuts over the next seven months, but would not target specific programs.

hide captionThe U.S. Capitol is seen Tuesday, three days before the government sequester is scheduled to begin. It would require $85 billion in across-the-board government spending cuts over the next seven months, but would not target specific programs.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

If it seems odd that so many members of Congress have such trouble coming up with specific things to cut from the budget (apart from the usual favorites, "waste" and "fraud), perhaps they're simply taking their cues from their bosses, their constituents.

Pew poll on budget cuts.
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

The Pew Research Center studied this in a recent poll, and found that of 19 different budget categories, there is majority support for cutting spending in exactly none of them.

The only one in which there is a clear plurality supporting cuts is foreign aid, or, as Pew phrased it in its question, "aid to world's needy." And in only two other areas, the State Department and unemployment aid, is there more support for cuts than there is for increased funding (support for leaving the funding level alone, however, is more popular than either).

Fifteen other categories, from military spending to Medicare to natural disaster relief, also saw pluralities for leaving things alone, although there was more support for higher funding than for cuts. And in three categories — health care, education and veterans' benefits — there were actual pluralities for increasing spending over the other options.

Pew does note that support for budget cutting has been gradually increasing since it started asking these questions in 1987, while support for higher government spending has been decreasing.

Still, it seems that today, right now, the idea of slashing federal spending for most Americans is a lot like losing weight or eating more vegetables — sounds great as an abstract aspiration, but not so easy when it gets down to the details.

S.V. Dáte is the congressional editor on NPR's Washington Desk.

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