Another reason to despair

I’ve been following Bruce Bartlett for the last year or so with increasing interest.  I am too young to remember him from his work in the Reagan and Bush I administrations, but I have to tell you, the man makes as much sense as anyone I’ve been reading with respect to the economy and the budget.  Maybe he speaks to my conservative side.

A few weeks ago, he wrote about a poll that I’ve been meaning to get back to.  I’m late, but it’s still relevant:

Today, Harris released an extraordinarily interesting poll on attitudes toward taxes, spending and deficits in several European countries and the US…The principal lesson of the US responses appears to be that support for spending cuts and government downsizing is broad and deep. But at the same time, there is strong support for soaking the rich through the tax system. Also, Americans continue to have unrealistic expectations about how easy it will be to balance the budget without cuts in programs that affect them. This suggests that if forced to choose between spending cuts that affect them and higher taxes that don’t affect them, the latter could quickly become the dominant position…

Question 5: “Which of the following policy areas do you think should bear the biggest part of the spending cuts burden?”
I made a graph of their answers:

Here’s my problem.  Foreign aid comprises less than 1% of our total budget.  So, while everyone seems to agree that foreign aid is what should “bear the biggest part of the spending cuts burden”, it’s inconsequential.  Not only that, but I bet once we started listing what would be cut (aid to Israel, money to combat HIV in Africa, etc.), people wouldn’t be able to stand it.  There’s just not that much waste in foreign aid.

I’m not even sure you could see the percentage of the budget that comprises “police protection”, so eliminating that is worthless.

Can you guess which of these is actually the largest share of the federal budget?  Of course you can; it’s health care.  Health care is easily the biggest percentage of the budget of all of these things, it’s likely growing faster than all of these things, and only 18% of people think it should bear the biggest part of the spending cuts burden.

I don’t know if it’s a numeracy issue, or politics, or willful ignorance, but if someone doesn’t start explaining the fact that we will have to address health care spending in the future – no matter who is in power – we’re all going down the drain.

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