Americans really don’t care for spending cuts

AMERICANS REALLY DON’T CARE FOR SPENDING CUTS…. About a week ago, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the right-wing Republican Study Committee, boasted, “I have never seen the American people more receptive, more ready for the tough-love measures that need to be taken to help fix the country.” And by “tough love,” Jordan meant making devastating cuts to domestic spending.

It’s hard to gauge GOP officials’ sincerity with confidence, but I suspect they genuinely believe Americans just love spending cuts. Republicans seem absolutely convinced that they lost their majority in 2006 in part because they spent so freely, and made big gains in 2010 thanks to an anti-spending platform. If the GOP takes a hatchet to the budget, the party expects to be richly rewarded.

The problem, of course, is that much of the public tends to approve of spending cuts in the abstract — and only in the abstract.

Prior to the State of the Union address, a majority of Americans said they favor cutting U.S. foreign aid, but more than 6 in 10 opposed cuts to education, Social Security, and Medicare. Smaller majorities objected to cutting programs for the poor, national defense, homeland security, aid to farmers, and funding for the arts and sciences.

This might be the most discouraging poll for Republicans in a very long time. Last week, Gallup asked respondents to say whether they “favor or oppose cutting government spending” in a variety of areas. A majority opposed cuts to everything — literally, everything — except foreign aid. A 52% majority even opposed cuts to funding for the arts. A whopping 67% opposes cuts to education — which happens to be one of the main targets for congressional Republicans.

There are some partisan differences, not surprisingly, but Gallup also found that even most self-identified Republican voters also opposed cuts to farmers, domestic security, defense, combating poverty, Medicare, education, and Social Security.

As for foreign aid — the only area of the budget both Democrats and Republicans are willing to cut — it’s worth emphasizing that most Americans vastly overstate how much we currently spend in this area. Recent research from the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that the public thinks roughly 25% of the budget goes to foreign aid, while the truth is about 1%.

So to review, Americans say they want spending cuts, until confronted with options, at which point they only want to cut foreign aid, which is only a tiny sliver of the budget.

Good luck, Congress.