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 opposition

The 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 revenues

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.