Most Americans Want Congress to Fix Budget Crisis, Increase Spending. Huh?

You can't have it both ways.



If you're concerned about the ever-expanding federal budget deficit, you probably think the government needs to, you know, spend less. Right? Maybe not.

Most Americans believe addressing the budget deficit should be one of the new Congress' top priorities, according to a Harvard-Politico poll released yesterday. But a majority of respondents also want Congress to increase spending in a variety of areas, including infrastructure, education, and the military.

Eighty percent of respondents say it's "extremely important" that Congress take "steps to substantially reduce the federal budget deficit." This seems to be a bipartisan issue, with 81 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats in agreement. This concern over the budget deficit isn't new. A Gallup poll from last March showed that 77 percent of Americans "personally worry about federal spending and the budget deficit" either a "great deal" (51 percent) or a "fair amount" (26 percent).

And there is plenty of cause for concern. It's hard to believe that as recently as 2001, the federal government posted a budget surplus (albeit a small one). In 2002, we were back in the red, with a $158 billion deficit. Now the Congressional Budget Office has projected a $981 billion deficit for the 2019 fiscal year. By 2020, that number will likely surpass $1 trillion. And the deficits from recent years have piled up, with the national debt reaching an astounding $21.974 trillion at the end of 2018.

So it's not a shock that people are worried. The problem is that Americans—both Republicans and Democrats—seem to want to keep spending anyway. Seventy-nine percent of respondents, including 82 percent of Democrats and 81 percent of Republicans, believe "increasing spending on the nation's infrastructure" is "an extremely important priority." Bipartisan support for this issue may explain why White House counselor Kellyanne Conway suggested recently that even with Democrats in control of the House, both parties could work together on an infrastructure bill. It's not exactly clear what that legislation would look like, though President Donald Trump promised $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending during his campaign.

Infrastructure isn't the only area where most Americans want to see more spending. Seventy-three percent of respondents—including 84 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans—want Congress to raise federal spending on K–12 education. This would likely mean an increase over the $40.1 billion appropriated by the federal government for elementary and secondary education in 2019.

Finally, the poll shows that 53 percent of Americans want Congress to increase spending on the military. This idea is more popular among Republicans, 68 percent of whom agree ith it, though nearly half of Democrats (46 percent) support it as well. Of course, the nation already spends on astronomical amount—$686 billion in 2019—on the Pentagon. But sure, let's throw more money its way!

Federal spending on infrastructure and education is not the main reason the government is nearly $22 trillion in debt. Military spending is a major factor, but the biggest culprits are entitlements, including more than $1 trillion for Social Security and roughly $625 billion for Medicare in 2019. This sort of spending is not sustainable. If no major changes are made, both programs will be insolvent within the next 15 years.

Now in this particular poll, those who said Congress should address the budget deficit came from a different sample from those who said they want Congress to increase spending in the areas described above. Still, the results suggest there's probably significant overlap. But you can't have it both ways. Either politicians take real steps to cut spending and balance the budget, or they keep on spending wildly. There's really no in-between.

The results of the poll make sense. In theory, everyone wants to fix the budget deficit. But the best way to do so is by cutting spending, which no one wants to do, rather than increasing it, which a lot of people seem to like.

And the attitudes of the public reflect the approaches taken by the leaders they elect. Take Trump. Back in 2016, he told The Washington Post he could eliminate the national debt in eight years. Still, he explicitly promised during his campaign not to cut Social Security or Medicare spending. And in case his lack of interest in addressing the deficit/debt wasn't apparent, The Daily Beast reported last month that Trump has said of the looming debt crisis: "Yeah, but I won't be here."

Trump was really just saying aloud what other politicians are no doubt thinking. Even former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R–Wisc.), a supposed budget hawk, was a complete failure when it came to balancing the budget.

So here's the biggest takeaway from the Politico-Harvard poll: Plenty of people want Congress to tackle the budget deficit crisis, unless that means reigning the government's wild spending. It probably won't be long before we see how that works out.

NEXT: Philadelphia's Soda Tax Just Killed a Grocery Store

Infrastructure Federal government Congress Budget Deficit National Debt Debt and Deficits Democratic Party Republican Party Debt Government Spending

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71 responses to “Most Americans Want Congress to Fix Budget Crisis, Increase Spending. Huh?

    1. Yes, dog logic is a lot like Paul Krugman logic!

      Spending , Schmending, deficit, schmeficit! No matter! See…..sContainer for the most recent Paul Krugman logic!

      And Venezuela is the worker’s paradise, too!!!

      1. See


        Wait, you pay for that?

        1. No, I don’t pay, and the link works OK for me… I am baffled… I hit it from Google news first time around, maybe that makes a difference…

  1. Plenty of people want Congress to tackle the budget deficit crisis, unless that means reigning the government’s wild spending.

    People want shit but don’t want to pay for it. Go figure. How much did that study cost and what sucker paid for it? My guess is that this was funded by a federal grant.


    1. Of course, that’s true to some extent. It just isn’t true to infinity and beyond.

  3. This sounds like made up BS.
    How can free stuff increase the deficit? It’s free damn it, free.

    1. Just like free tax cuts, huh? Just sprinkle some supply-side pixie-dust, and trillions more of debt magically disappears.

    2. it can’t. that is why we are going to have free college and free healthcare.

    3. it can’t. that is why we are going to have free college and free healthcare.

  4. Well, the two statements of “spend more on infrastructure” and “reduce the deficit” are not necessarily incompatible, if one’s desire to spend more on infrastructure comes from reallocating existing money, instead of taxing or borrowing more.

    1. Or raising taxes.

    2. Ya, I think most Americans assume (probably rightly) that their is enough graft and corruption that can be whittled away to reduce the deficit. If anything, the poll results more reflect the incongruity of spending priorities.

      As a thought experiment, it would be nice if people could allocate in broad strokes how their taxes are spent, I think congress would shit a collective brick to find The National Endowment for the Arts or their yearly pay increases doesn’t rate highly as a concern, and should be cut.

      There is how you start to reduce the size of government.

      1. NEA annual budget = $153 million. 10 minutes of spending. Far less time than needed to write the operating plan for eliminating it. Much less time than the self-congratulatory tour by those who do cut that to bask in the glory at delivering ‘smaller govt’.

        We long ago passed the point of ‘smaller govt’ delivering acclaim/plaudits or electoral advantage. There are only four significant items left.

        Medicare, SS (both mostly funded by those who ‘don’t pay income tax’ since we ignore FICA)
        Defense and interest on the debt (funded by income tax)

        All require fundamental rethink. All massive pain to very identifiable groups of voters who vote on that issue. All will result in the quick end of one’s electoral career. None are being addressed even by those who purport to be ‘libertarian’ (who all seem to believe that the wastefraudabuse strategy and some flowery rhetoric will actually deliver savings in those four areas). Just looking at those four areas, it is pretty clear that NO ONE of significance – inside or outside DC – is serious about cutting government.

        How many articles on Reason have there been in the last year re the sort of specific changes to cut defense and how that would affect our entire foreign policy (including the much vaunted ‘free trade agreements’ that assume US control of global trade routes for free navigation)? Or the restructuring of our financial system and the relations between Wall St and govt that would result from a focus on interest spending?

        1. There is an adage in racing that you don’t reduce weight anywhere, you reduce weight EVERYWHERE. Losing a few ounces here and there has a better cumulative affect better than focusing on a silver bullet. For instance, just half of the current budget for the NEA compounded by 2% for its history is over 7 billion. The government is currently shutdown over less.

          Not to mention any reform under the current spending is going leave less options open, making any changes harder to enact. Nor is the public likely to accept any changes if there isn’t at least a good faith effort to exhaust other options first.

          Again, priorities.

  5. “You can’t have it both ways.”

    Umm, it’s actually pretty simple. Just tax the top… (*checks income distribution table against own income*)… 34% of earners. Those greedy bastards just don’t want to pay their fair share.

    1. Also… make the bottom 45% pay some federal income taxes. Those dirty leeches just don’t want to pay their fair share.

      1. In cash or kidneys.

  6. I blame today’s kids. They’re the ones who are going to have to pay it back, and instead of getting angry about it, they’re marching in the streets to demand more funding for ‘security’ which ironically only puts them at greater risk. They should be fighting medicare and SS. They are essentially going to be slaves for years to China and Japan and rich old white men. This is the real threat to their health and safety.

    1. Math is triggering.

      1. No, it’s trigonometry

    2. You’re blaming the VICTIM? What an asshole.

      Yeah – they should be fighting ‘Medicare and SS’ (and all the actions of govt that created the existing debt). But that means fighting their parents and grandparents – who also happen to be the people who are actually to blame for all this and who vote for it and who prevent all means of peacefully changing it. So in essence, the only real option available to change things is parricide or geronticide. Which will certainly change things quickly but like all such things will even more quickly create their own ugly dynamic.

      They may be deluded in thinking that there are still additional free slices of pie to scarf up for themselves with no consequences for others. But they are hardly uniquely to blame for that since that is a pretty universal delusion among all age groups today.

      1. Yes I am blaming the victim. And yes sometimes you have to be an asshole to get things done. Your comment is funny because you start out by insulting me and then by the end you are in complete agreement. #yaylogic

        1. No I am not in agreement – unless you were actually advocating murder of the older generations – in which case they will not need to ‘pay anything back’ because that act will also repudiate the debts incurred by that older generation.

          Any generic ‘anger’ within the system is as useless as tits on a bull. And I actually think the younger gens realize that too which is why they are ok with simply copying the delusions of the older gens or opting out altogether.

          1. So we can’t cut the spending on the older generations, we can’t blame the younger generations for their actions in exacerbating the problem.

            I think I see what you mean. Can’t blame anyone, can’t do anything about it.

            He’s the sad situation that our leaders for generations have put us in.

            We are all to blame, old and young. To fix it, all will suffer…a lot, many may die. We can delay fixing it, and all will suffer even more, and many more will die.

            Pick your poison.

  7. At least something can be done about it…

  8. “I really need to (munch munch) watch my diet and (toss me the remote, will you?) exercise more.”

  9. The Daily Beast reported last month that Trump has said of the looming debt crisis: “Yeah, but I won’t be here.”

    Once again, I appreciate Trump’s honesty instead of the last 10,000 politicians that just skirted around the fact that they too “wouldn’t be here” when the fruits of their policies fell off the tree.

    *cough*jerry brown*cough*

    1. She totally mispronounced LeSean McCoy’s first name. No real Philadelphia fan would have done that.

      1. She said “Shady McCoy,” which is his nickname.

  10. It is logically consistent to want to increase spending AND balance the budget if you simply assert that people other than yourself should pay far more in taxes.

  11. What would be interesting is a spreadsheet of changing spenditure: years across, departments down. You’d want to limit the rows to a hundred or so. Don’t show just the cabinet level agencies, split them up somewhat, but not so much that no one wants to wade through them all.

    Or better yet, an interactive page where the budgets start per cabinet agency, and each click on an agency expands it into the top 10 or 20 subdivisions. I doubt there are very many deletions over time, but there are additions.

    It puzzles me in many ways that so much more money can be spent on nothing visible. I know about entitlements and the military. But what part of the entitlements is growing? What part of the military? Nimitz carriers cost around $4B I think; what makes Ford carries cost three times as much? Or is that disingenuous bastards comparing apples and oranges, such as including design cost or air wings with Fords and not with Nimitzes?

    And what about the non-entitlement non-military spending? Where is all the increase?

    1. The fastest increase in spending is on interest on the debt. Right now, it is roughly half of defense spending – with still a decade of subsidized interest rates. If interest rates normalize – and we immediately balance the budget, it will become significantly larger than defense behind only SS/Medicare.

      Ultimately that is the end game. Income taxes will go to servicing the debt so it can be rolled over. Any proposed tax cuts will create a financial crisis in sovereign debt.

      1. And a big part of the debt has no interest charge. That is the intragovernmental debt, like what is owed to the SS fund.

  12. Of course, it’s possible for most Americans to want X and most Americans to want Y, while only a small percentage of Americans want both X and Y. Just sayin’. (Dunno if TFA addresses this.)

    1. “Most” typically means more than 50%; usually significantly more than 50%… 10 people in the room, and 5 want ice cream, and 5 detest the hell out of ice cream? You would NOT say that “most” of the people like ice cream, or you would be lying!

      More than 50% of the people say that illegal sub-humans should all be tortured and killed, while also more than 50% of the same group of people say that ALL immigrants should be welcomed with a red carpet and open arms? Then the math does NOT hold, and at least SOME people are rabidly schizophrenic!

      But yes, you’re correct, if X and Y both come in at 51%, the number of rabidly schizophrenic people at the intersection could be small…

      1. It would be more like asking one room of 10 people if their favorite ice cream is vanilla or chocolate, and then asking another room of 10 people if they want ice cream.

        The claim that “a majority of people polled prefer vanilla ice cream” and that “a majority of people polled do not want ice cream” would not be incompatible.

        It is possible to increase spending in 1 or 2 categories while reining in spending overall (well, at least in theory… In practice, not so much.)

  13. American Voters want contradictory/mutually exclusive things. This is not news.

    1. It’s not news, & it also makes sense. You’re asking me what I would do about X, if I had the power? Now you’re asking me what I’d do about Y, if I had the power? I know I don’t have the power to do both, & doing both would be impossible, but I’d like at least 1 of them, please! People are not idiots.

      The way you get “sensible” answers to this is a way that’s been done by some social scientists, which is to get up a focus group that’s a model legislature, & let them hammer it out. Then you find out what compromise is most acceptable to them. I remember the Concord Group’s doing such an experiment around the turn of the century.

  14. These would be the same Americans who bitch and moan constantly about corrupt shitweasel politicians and then re-elect them every chance they get.

    1. MY corrupt shitweasel politicians who bring home the bacon to MY district are the GOOD corrupt shitweasel politicians , and the ones who steal from ME to help YOU are the BAD corrupt shitweasel politicians!

      (Kinda simple actually).

    2. I live in CA, I haven’t had representation by any shitweasel’s in so long, I can’t remember. Oh, that may be because I wasn’t born in a time when this state wasn’t ruled by liberals.

      I’m 51

  15. I wonder how many commenters are also for funding a border wall?

    1. That would be me. Border security is, in fact, what of the few areas that isn’t unconstitutional for the feds to spend money on.

      1. Another statist happy to spend my money on something I don’t want.

        Fuck off, slaver.

        1. Someone will not want anything government spends other people’s money on.

          So fuck off, anarchist

  16. The solution that this poll is begging for is for taxpayers to be able to earmark their own taxes to specific departments within government.

    1. Volunteerism is a nobel goal.

  17. The ruling class wont be doing anything about spending until China cuts off the spigot…..maybe not even then.

  18. ” It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2001, the federal government posted a budget surplus (albeit a small one).”

    It should be hard to believe, since it’s not true. Any private business that used that sort of accounting to claim a surplus would be charged with accounting fraud.

    1. Yes, we had a balance of payments surplus, not a budget surplus. There is a difference, and it does matter.

    2. No private biz would be allowed to make promises that aren’t. Future spending such as SS is not legally enforcible; debts are. It’s not acc’ting,/b> fraud, it’s just…fraud!

        1. I mean I SFd the HTML.

  19. So we’ve run out of other peoples money? Guess we’ll have to raise cigarette taxes. That always works.

  20. Only those who are naive think they can have it both ways…

  21. I don’t understand. Why would anyone want the federal government to increase spending on K-12 education? That’s primarily funded by the states. Presumably the vast majority of Americans send their children to schools in the same state where they pay taxes and vote. If you want more money for your kids’ school why not just raise your own state spending on K-12 education?

    I really can’t even think of a single reason you wouldn’t do this. Your state vote is many times more impactful than your national vote so it should be much easier to get your state to spend what you would like on your child’s school (or hell, your city). No need to worry about what voters in another state think of your education spending, just organize your own small community and pay as much as you like for your schools. Or do people really think agitating for the Federal Government to give Johnny’s school a dollar is easier and more effective than lobbying their own city council?

    1. What? You expect people to behave logically? How illogical!

      It’s a combination of factors. Most people fail to distinguish federal, state, and local government as having separate domains of control and power. If it’s best for me surely it’s best for the entire country. The whole existence of a federal department of education defies both logic and the 10th amendment, but you’re hard pressed to find an opponent to its existence on either the left or the right. For whatever reason people seem far more interested in the federal government and especially in the presidency. The election where their vote counts the least always draws the most people. There’s also the matter of who’s money it is. Federal money is seen as somebody else’s money. State or particularly in the case of education often country money is seen as one’s own money. Lastly and perhaps somewhat logically, many states are constitutionally required to balance their budgets. So at the state level, allocating more money for one thing requires taking money away from another.

      1. State and local governments jump on this because they don’t have raise local taxes so they get no blame for increased taxes. It is why there is a need for federal spending on infrastructure. Local spending on infrastructure has decreased as a percentage of the economy.

  22. The budget crisis is made by the congress taking lobby money (bribes) to pass major appropriations for UNCONSTITUTIONAL programs that are welfare for these different unconstitutional agencies and payments to countries that do not need our financial support. These disingenuous congress morons perjured (lied) on their oath of office when they raised their hand and SWORE fidelity to the Constitution of our REPUBLIC. They, “en masse”, should suffer impeachment and removal from office with loss of their congressional perquisites. They cannot even do a yearly budget without increasing the now unsustainable debt.

  23. Obviously the solution is to tax the hell out of the rich, plug in a financial transactions tax, and start taxing wealth even when its stationary. Get that capital flowing again!

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  25. Author needs to correct this whopper: ” It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2001, the federal government posted a budget surplus (albeit a small one).”

    A federal government budget surplus is not like a surplus in your or my household. Accounting 3-card monte allows so much spending to be off-budget that a state of “budget surplus” is meaningless. This fiscal fakery is the downfall of any Balanced Budget Amendment—the shameless politicians will be the ones writing the definition of what a Balanced Budget is. The only publicly released data that one can go by is the year-over-year change in the total national debt. If it goes down, we were in the back that year; if it goes up, we were in the red that year. According to the Treasury Dept, we have been in the red since 1957. /govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt.htm

  26. You know, there is another option that is conspicuously absent from the article. We could raise taxes enough to actually pay for all the things people say they want. If that happened people would be able to decide which they prefer – lower taxes or lower spending. As long as “deficit hawks” insist on cutting taxes, we’re going to continue in this fantasy land where the people get what they want while pushing off until later the requirement that it be paid for.

    1. I agree. The reason people think they can have new programs and reduce the deficit is because that what politicians tells them. They are more likely to believe the politician who says that he is for cutting spend, than the politician who says we need to raise the gas tax to repair the roads. But which is the one whose lying. I for one, am tired of the spent, cut taxes and borrow politician. I am ready for pay for the services I want.

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  28. “If the right to vote were expanded to seven year olds … its policies would most definitely reflect the ‘legitimate concerns’ of children to have ‘adequate’ and ‘equal’ access to ‘free’ french fries, lemonade and videos.” ~ Hans-Hermann Hoppe

  29. Or you could raise taxes on the rich by raising the top rates on marginal income. And that would be “ALL marginal income, not just wages / salaries” I realize that conservatives are not good at math, but are very good at cherry picking. Still, it would appear that these pictures show that allowing the very wealthy to keep more of their money as little if any effect on GDP growth rate
    https://www.politico .com/interactives/2017/ gop-tax-rate-cut-wealthy/ –> changing the top income tax rate does not have a predictable effect on economic growth.
    If any of you were aware of history in this country you would be aware that in the 50’s marginal rates were much higher. What reducing the top rates does consistently do is increase the Gini Index. Since the mid 1950’s we have gone from about 38 to 47, and are approaching a inequality that we had in the late 20’s Also we have the highest Gini of the OECD countries. And like it or not, income inequality is an excellent predictor of social unrest and economic unpleasantness.

    But you guys just stay in your comfortable tribal echo chamber and tell each other how the top .1% really does deserve all of their wealth and income and that they do not rig the system and purchase law makers.

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