Americans Want Big Spending Cuts Before They'll Agree to a Hike in the Debt Ceiling

President Obama may demand, demand, that Congress raise the debt ceiling and let the federal government borrow more money along its march to what the Congressional Budget Office describes as an "unsustainable" fiscal mess. Congressional Republicans may have muddied the water by arguing Obamacare rather than debt and spending during the budget negotiations. But Americans know what they want, even if politician aren't clear on the message: No hike in the debt ceiling without real spending cuts, please.

A new poll sponsored by Fox News shows that a majority of Americans aren't comfortable with congresscritters, egged on by the president and his cronies, borrowing and spending the country into unsustainability as a matter of official policy.

In order for the federal government to borrow enough money to make good on all its commitments, Congress must soon vote to raise the country's debt limit above the current $16.7 trillion dollar limit. Which of the following is closer to your opinion on this?

The debt limit must be raised and it’s reckless to even debate not raising it: 27%

The debt limit should only be increased after making major cuts in government spending: 62%

Don't know: 11%

The percentage opposing a condition-free borrowing spree is down only a bit—from 69%—from a similar Fox poll in January.

Debt ceiling oppositionReasonThe results are very close to those of last month's Reason-Rupe poll, which found widespread opposition to hiking the debt ceiling, with Americans split even if spending cuts are added to the mix.

The federal government is expected to hit its debt limit—which is the legal limit on how much the federal government can borrow to pay its bills—in the next few months. In general, do you favor or oppose raising the debt ceiling?

• Favor: 24%

• Oppose: 70%

• DK/Refused: 6%

• Total: 100%

That opposition to borrowing reflects that fact that 76 percent of respondents to the Reason-Rupe poll say the federal government spends too much.

What constitutes a cut sufficient to justify a hike in the debt ceiling? Fox didn't ask, but we did. We came up with a mean of 37 percent and a median of 30 percent cuts in federal spending "across the board to help balance the budget?" That sounds like a good start. It's also a necessary start when we consider a future, projected from today's red-ink habits, that has spending ever-outpacing revenues into the mists of the future. At least, until the dollar turns into toilet paper.

Spending and revenuesCBO

It's worth remembering that the sky will not fall if Congress and the president actually pay attention to public sentiment on matters fiscal. Failing to raise the debt ceiling does not mean defaulting on the debt. As economist and Reason columnist Veronique de Rugy wrote in 2011:

First, if the debt ceiling is not increased it doesn’t mean the federal government will have to repay the entire debt at once. The government just won’t be able to increase its borrowing. Americans understand the difference between not being able to borrow more money and defaulting on one’s mortgage...
More importantly, the Treasury Department has other options. For instance, if the debt ceiling is not increased, the Treasury can prioritize interest and debt payment to avoid a default.

So, the federal government would just have to pay for its existing borrowing and get its spending under control? That may be inconceivable for politicians, but at least it's sustainable.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • sarcasmic||

    "Hello? Visa? Yeah, I'd like you to raise my limit from $5,000 to $5,000,000, and I'd like to only pay the interest. That's right, no principal. Hello? You still there?"

  • Jerryskids||

    Remember how we solved all this 30 years ago with Gramm-Rudman-Hollings?

    I don't believe for a minute that the American people want any kind of budget cuts, they want the government to spend lots more money without raising taxes or borrowing more money. They also want free beer and ice cream.

  • Bam!||

    And ponies!

  • Brett L||

    And circuses!

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Can I get a side of bread with that circus?

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    While we're at it, can we feed undesirable minorities to lions?

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Great. Now we're going to have another 500 comment thread about the war on Xtians.

  • Mainer2||

    and tractor pulls

  • Adam330||

    Precisely. Try pairing this question with different sets of proposed budget cuts that would balance the budget for 2014, i.e. likely on the order of $750B, and for the foreseeable future. Once people hear that this would mean raising the SS age, changing COLAs, decreasing medicare benefits, reducing the size of the military, etc., the responses would be quite different.

  • Sevo||

    "Once people hear [...] the responses would be quite different."
    IDEA!
    Let's feed the CBO a bunch of crap and get them to lie about the costs! Then we can ram a bill through congress and let everybody find out what's in it later!

  • aelhues||

    That sounds splendid! They can read the bloated bill after it's passed, and then it's the law!

  • Mainer2||

    settled law, no less

  • The Last American Hero||

    Yep. What you describe is the flip side of a poll that came out in 2010 asking if the US Gov should provide free basic health care to all citizens. The result was yes - by a large margin. Next question was would you be willing to pay $100 more in tax each year for such a program - not so many in favor. The more the dollars went up in the poll the more unfavorable the results. The people want shit, so long as its free.

  • Rasilio||

    I think you are wrong on that.

    I think most Americans want the Federal Budget cut but they have absolutely no idea what the government spends money on and they don't want any of the programs they like/use to be cut

    So they oppose cutting Medicare and Social Security and agitate for cutting Foreign Aid or PBS Funding

  • Hugh Akston||

    Why would Congresscritters give a flying shit what the marks think or want?

  • creech||

    Because some don't live in districts so gerrymandered that the low-information voters - most of whom demand a free lunch - can't vote them out of their cushy offices?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Because if Congress doesn't get its shit together, the suckers in those swing districts will band together and loudly demand that Congress stop giving them free ponies.

  • Bam!||

    "But Americans know what they want, even if politician aren't clear on the message: No hike in the debt ceiling without real spending cuts, please."

    They say that right up until you start talking about specific cuts.

  • sarcasmic||

    Yep. Cut the government. Just not anything that affects me, my kid, my parents, my grandparents, the military, education, entitlements, or anything that costs jobs.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    It's not the first time that a corporation has been at the mercy of an irrational executive. Only this time, the executive consists of a majority of voters.

  • Dweebston||

    Which is why sequestration needs to be an ongoing policy to answer the debt ceiling. 10%, across the board, you decide who gets the hatchet; regardless, you're getting 10% less.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Except they DON'T get to decide what gets the hatchet.

    With regards to the military, they cannot kill ongoing programs or get rid of weapon systems. That means the cuts come out of training and maintenance.

    Sequestration is a horrific way to cut the military and it IS killing readiness.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Why should we care about how ready our offense is?

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Because our offense is also our defense.

  • Rasilio||

    UM, Unless you're worried about an invasion from Mexico or Canada our Defense is 3000 & 5000 miles of ocean to either side backed up by about 5000 Nuclear warheads

  • Cytotoxic||

    Shipping and embassies exist.

    However, I simply don't buy the line that sequestration is killing military readiness.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    More wingnut lies.

  • eyeroller||

    Yeah well, the problem is, people don't want "major cuts in government spending"

    They want to cut foreign aid, which they think is half the budget. Ask them to cut anything else and Republicans and Democrats will both scream NOOOO!!!!!

  • Drake||

    Ask your non-political friends what the Department of Agriculture or Commerce does and have them guess how many full-time employees they have.

    Their answers will be off by 50k or so.

    Do what any corporation that finds itself too expensive does - layoffs.

  • Adam330||

    Over a quarter of the Department of Ag's employees are Forest Service. And we've just learned that all americans, even republicans, deem that essential.

  • Bryan C||

    We did?

  • Adam330||

    I don't know how else to interpret all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that parks and national forests are closed.

  • BladeDoc||

    Open parks and national forests =! need for the park police.

    How about replacing them all with a sign -- this is a big forest/monument/park, etc, use at your own risk.

  • Drake||

    And we wouldn't know that they were closed if we didn't have the nasty fuckers turning people away.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    I will give props to the Forest Service, or at least the local administrator, in handling the shutdown compared to the NPS. All of the day use areas, parking lots, viewpoints were open. I saw open signs next to some of the campground turn offs while others were closed, but that may have been due to normal seasonal closures. Visitors centers and offices were closed. As they should be in a "shutdown". No orange cones as far as I could see.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    The way to cut government agencies is over time. Identify the agencies, or portions thereof, to cut and then eliminate them over a 5-10 year period.

    This way everyone knows their job is going away years in advance and it gives private industry time to identify any shortcomings in the market (yeah, right?) and fill the gap.

    The law that makes the cuts should also contain verbiage that requires a 75% majority to repeal any portion of the law.

  • BigT||

    The way to cut government agencies is over time. Identify the agencies, or portions thereof, to cut and then eliminate them over a 5-10 month period

    FIFY

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    And the shock to the system sends the economy into another recession and the Dems get to yell, "SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU CUT GOVERNMENT!" And we are right back where we started.

    Do it slowly, but fucking do it!

  • Brett L||

    Gas prices down, stock market up. This shutdown is sending us into economic freefall!

  • Killazontherun||

    That is exactly what the early adapters of Keynesian said about the draw down after WW2, they got it completely ass backwards. You draw down the federal work force, cut taxes, strangle the regulatory state, the incentives will do the work for you.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Government is cut quickly or never. See Canada, 1994.

  • Drake||

    Yep - Fire all 106,000 Dept of Ag employees on day one. Don't give them time to dig in and fight.

    What is their average loaded salary? $90k?

    $90,000 x 106,000 = $9.5 Billion annually.

    Do that to a couple of departments are we start talking about real money.

  • brian0918||

    The CBO must have some really smart people, to be able to predict government spending and GDP 30 years out.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Some fucking dummy from Congress was on the teevee this morning hammering the big, "People around the world are laughing at us!" talking point about how crazy we are to not allow the President unlimited borrowing ability.

    Nobody asked him what he thought people might think about a spending superpower which assumes it can fund itself by borrowing in perpetuity.

  • Brett L||

    IF it makes him feel better, people around the US are laughing at him, too.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I'm sorry, I thought was America. Fuck what the rest of the world thinks. They also think that soccer has more action than football.

  • Brett L||

    In the case of that Pats game last weekend, they'd be right.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    See, they even got to Brett. Now you don't even want defense, just running around.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    What do you want to cut? This attractive white women - WITH CUTE BABY - who has cancer. Just let her die you heartless bastards.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....-shutdown/

    PS: don't cut the free ponies - CUTE PONIES!

  • Brett L||

    These are the people Harry Reid is holding hostage?

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    But Obama proposes Medicare board to cut useless procedures and the wingnuts scream DEATH PANELS!!!!

  • BigT||

    Dumb shit - the govt shouldn't be making the decisions. Haven't you figured that out yet?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Do what any corporation that finds itself too expensive does - layoffs.

    Sometimes- bear with me now- they stop doing things which cost more to do than the economic benefits they provide; you know, "unprofitable" stuff.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    But we must have the warz! MUNICH! ISLAMO-FASCISM! COWARDS! RED MENACE! FRANCE!

  • BigT||

    Sometimes- bear with me now- they stop doing things which cost more to do than the economic benefits they provide; you know, "unprofitable" stuff.

    What does the govt do that is profitable?? I presume you are saying to cut all govt activities. OK, except defense and courts. Privatize the rest - lease the parks to private industry.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    But how will the Second Assistant Deputy Undersecretary in Charge of Research on Ruminant Interspecies Sexual Deviance afford to send his kids to Princeton, if we slash spending on vital government programs?

    You people should be ashamed of yourselves.

  • Brett L||

    Please. You think they get Assistant Deputy Undersecretaries in charge of anything? Only full Deputy Directors get to be in charge of things.

  • Drake||

    Gotta have a bench, just in case.

  • wayne@herberts.org||

    It just goes to show that an educated populace is necessary to run a democracy, and we don't have one.

  • Sevo||

    Yeah, a majority of Americans want the spending cut on *your* programs.

  • BigT||

    This is the core problem with socialist programs. They have a very vocal support group and a less interested opposition. "Concentrate the benefit and spread the pain" gets lots of support and spends us into bankruptcy.

  • Dr. Frankenstien||

    Approx. 40% of the budget is money spent on old people. Maybe the voter ID is to keep the non-driving elderly from the polls so we can cut government spending to a reasonable amount.

    Or we just get rid of the military and use the militia system for defense.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Was J.D. too busy daydreaming to help a patient or add the alt-text?

  • Dweebston||

    Alt-text is a privilege, not a right.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    You need to reread the work of the Founding Fathers.

  • John||

    http://www.mercurynews.com/nat.....s-bay-area

    This article about the nice liberal middle class couple in California sums up the American mentality on spending and government. They are all for the government doing these great things, provided it is with someone else' money. The whole government is build on convincing people it is not really their money that is being used to fund it. Of course it is their money. But politicians are very adept at hiding that fact.

  • Tony||

    There is no easy way to "prioritize" accounts since payments are automatic and computerized and there is no system that allows you to pick and choose. This is ignoring the global economic consequences that won't be staved off by reassurances that we'll prioritize payments in a responsible way--despite the fact that we just failed to increase the debt ceiling for absolutely no reason other than total insanity.

    If you want to tear government down, get elected on that platform and do it. Don't use invented crises to circumvent the democratic process.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    If the same Congressman keep getting elected, well, that's about as democratic as the American system gets.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    IF only Milt Romney had been elected. Programs would for the military would be restored along with Obama's heartless Medicare cuts.

    Yeah, the GOP is "small gov" - idiots like John actually believe that.

  • Jordan||

    THE LIZARD PEOPLE ARE IN MY HOUSE

  • Sevo||

    Hey, Jordan! It's BUUUUUUUUUUUUUSH! Shreek just told me!

  • Rasilio||

    No dipshit, the GOP establishment (as represented by Romney, Boehner, McConnell, and McCain) are most definitely not small government and this is why the Republican part is embroiled in a civil war with the grass roots support (especially as represented here) being decidedly behind the upstarts who to this point really are principled small government politicians, aka Paul, Amash, Cruz, Lee, etc.

    Problem is there are only a handful of them actually in Washington

  • #||

    I know he's no Benito like you'd prefer Buttplug, but last time I checked Romney wasn't popular around here.

  • BigT||

    ...reassurances that we'll prioritize payments in a responsible way

    They have reason to be afraid, very afraid - look who is running the Executive Branch - el Bozo!!

  • Dweebston||

    In other words, it's a leviathan we've no hope of containing, why bother trying?

    Perpetual Eurozone crises due to profligate spending and interdependent borrowing—is theirs the point at which we begin trying to scale back our indebtedness? Or will that, too, be another invented crisis?

  • Tony||

    Debt as an immediate crisis is a fabrication. In fact, treating it as the immediate crisis (and not employment or economic growth) guarantees only more debt.

    You are welcome to go forth and convince people to give up vast aspects of government. You're not entitled to get what you want by proving Naomi Klein right.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|10.8.13 @ 11:09AM|#
    "Debt as an immediate crisis is a fabrication. In fact, treating it as the immediate crisis (and not employment or economic growth) guarantees only more debt."

    Oh, goody. And econ lesson from a retard.

  • Rasilio||

    You are correct, Debt is not currently an immediate crisis. Problem is that by the time it is an immediate crisis it is impossible to fix.

    What you are advocating is we do nothing, take on every larger debt loads until sometime between 2020 - 2025 the tidal wave of Boomer retirees finally overwhelms the system and we can't take on more debt (likely with at least 1 and probably 2 more bubble fueled crashes between now and then).

    The problem is by that point Debt Service + Social Security + Medicare will exceed tax revenues collected by a significant margin meaning the only way to avoid a default and even run a minimal government would be to basically stop paying retiree benefits.

    Alternatively we could actually make cuts today, not projected cuts in the 10 year baseline but real actual cuts across the board including to programs like Social Security and Medicare (even just means testing them and raising the retirement age to 72 would make a huge difference over the long term)

  • The Last American Hero||

    Guys like Justin Amash and Rand Paul followed your advice - and are regularly villianized by folks like yourself as Evul Teabaggers.

  • Tony||

    That's because I think their plan for the country is absurd and terrifying.

  • sarcasmic||

    They want to impose liberty on the masses! Oh the horror! People doing things without first asking permission from someone in government! People acting without taking orders from someone in government! What is a slave to do without someone giving permission and issuing orders! Chaos! Anarchy! Run for your life!

  • #||

    The Tony's of the world want to tell themselves that they are adults while at the same time demanding they be treated like children.

  • sarcasmic||

    Peak Irony?

  • Bryan C||

    Yes, everyone knows that once you put information in The Computer it can never ever be changed or modified in any way. Imagine all the white-out they'd need for the monitors. MADNESS!

  • Tony||

    It would be extremely time-consuming and difficult and the fucking point is totally unnecessary and beside the point since widespread damage to the global economy will have been done.

  • Jordan||

    But creating tens of thousands of pages of regulations is easy, right?

  • Tony||

    No but that doesn't happen in the span of a week.

    "Too many pages!" Lamest complaint ever from the people who enabled special interest carving up of legislation.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    EMPEROR: Well, Herr Mozart! A good effort. Decidedly that. An excellent effort! You've shown us something quite new today.

    [Mozart bows frantically: he is over-excited.]

    MOZART: It is new, it is, isn't it, Sire?

    EMPEROR: Yes, indeed.

    MOZART: So then you like it? You really like it, Your Majesty?

    EMPEROR: Of course I do. It's very good. Of course now and then - just now and then - it gets a touch elaborate.

    MOZART: What do you mean, Sire?

    EMPEROR: Well, I mean occasionally it seems to have, how shall one say? [he stops in difficulty; turning to Orsini-Rosenberg] How shall one say, Director?

    ORSINI-ROSENBERG: Too many notes, Your Majesty?

    EMPEROR: Exactly. Very well put. Too many notes.

    MOZART: I don't understand. There are just as many notes, Majesty, as are required. Neither more nor less.

    EMPEROR: My dear fellow, there are in fact only so many notes the ear can hear in the course of an evening. I think I'm right in saying that, aren't I, Court Composer?

    SALIERI: Yes! yes! er, on the whole, yes, Majesty.

    MOZART: But this is absurd!

    EMPEROR: My dear, young man, don't take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Cut a few and it will be perfect.

    MOZART: Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?

    EMPEROR: Well. There it is.

  • WTF||

    tl;dr version:
    1. shreeky thinks the current incarnation of government is as sublime and wonderful as a Mozart symphony
    2. shreeky thinks libertarians can't come up with a list of regulations to cut.

  • Jordan||

    True classical liberals defend the right of people to beg government bureaucrats for permission to engage in a small subset of approved voluntary transactions.

    /Stalin's Buttboy

  • Drake||

    So federal regulations are comparable to a Mozart symphony?

    You really do worship the state.

  • Jordan||

    So you concede that government can and should do some hard things.

    "Too many pages!" Lamest complaint ever from the people who enabled special interest carving up of legislation.

    "Special interest" = somebody who disagrees with Tony on policy. You created the leviathan. I'm sorry that you find it inconvenient that others get a say in how it's used.

  • KDN||

    You know, Jack Lew is essentially the Controller for the federal government. Maybe he should get off his ass and actually institute some controls in the process.

    If the system actually works as you're claiming, which wouldn't surprise me as it would reflect a complete lack of accountability and disinterest in the quality of payments being made, it's an enormous indictment of both the Treasury and the entire structure of the federal government. I doubt there's ever been a corporation in more dire need of a reorg.

  • Jordan||

    If you want to tear government down, get elected on that platform and do it. Don't use invented crises to circumvent the democratic process.

    Good point! Somebody ought to tell Republicans that they can run for Congress. Have they tried that yet?

  • Tony||

    If they want their entire agenda enacted they need to win the Senate and the presidency too.

  • Jordan||

    But they don't in order to refuse to raise the debt ceiling.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    No, see, if there is a single Democrat in power, the Republicans have to do what the Democrats want or they hate democracy.

  • Tony||

    A small group of terrorists who somehow manage to collapse the economy don't need to be elected to majorities either.

  • Jordan||

    While I think calling them terrorists is overblown, it's true that the Federal Reserve is not elected.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Winner winner chicken dinner!

  • sarcasmic||

    A small group of terrorists who somehow manage to collapse the economy

    The derp is strong in this one.

  • Adam330||

    Look, everyone knows that the Reps were hiding their opposition to Obamacare during campaign. They just sprung this one on us all by surprise.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Don't use invented crises to circumvent the democratic process.

    Why not? WTF are you going to do about it?

  • califernian||

    Don't use invented crises to circumvent the democratic process.

    HAHAHAHHA did you just say that with a straight face?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Poor li'l fella, his butt hurts. Again.

  • Invisible Finger||

    The debt limit should only be increased after making major cuts in government spending: 62%

    If there are major cuts in government spending, there is NO NEED to raise the debt ceiling. In fact, major cuts in government spending should be coupled with LOWERING the debt ceiling.

  • califernian||

    ^THIS +100

    We should NOT raise the debt ceiling AND slash the federal budget by 90%

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Debt as an immediate crisis is a fabrication.

    Right. It's only a crisis when you have to pay it back.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Even if this poll is 100% accurate (which is doubtful), it will be dismissed out of hand as nothing but the latest Teahadist plot based on its sponsor.

    Remember: Principals Principles.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    There is supposed to be a greater than sign in between there, but apparent greater than signs are squirrell snacks.

  • califernian||

    Since I struggle to think of even 10% of the federal government as valuable and worthwhile, this is all just arguing over just how badly oversized do the people want it to be.

    I'd be eliminating entire FUNCTIONS of federal government, not just the scope of the departments.

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