The latest New York Times/CBS News poll once again shows that feelings about reducing the federal deficit are anything but rational. As Bruce and I have discussed here at CG&G many times over the years, Americans resoundingly don’t want taxes raised but, with rare exceptions that typically won’t have much of a positive impact on the problem, also don’t want spending cut. Over at Economix, David Leonhardt has a good story explaining the budget ins and outs of the poll.
The poll once again confirms that, although “federal spending” is very unpopular in theory, the services the federal government provides with that spending are at least or more popular in reality. That’s why the notion that eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse” will reduce the deficit works so well: It offers the hope that spending can be reduced without the government doing anything less than it is currently doing.
It also explains why everyone is so eager to think that we can grow our way out of the deficit: It’s the magic potion that provides the apparently painless solution the NY Times/CBS poll shows everyone wants of no legislated tax increases or spending cuts.
And, the poll explains why the federal budget debate is so incredibly hyperbolic and nonsensical: The typical American hates all of the solutions to the problem at least as much as the problem itself. If that’s all you knew, you would predict that the budget debate in Washington would be little more than rhetorical flourishes that excoriate whoever is in power for a deficit that never seems to get better because every proposed solution is equally as damned.
Finally, all of this is a great explanation of why talking rationally about the federal budget doesn’t work. Statistics, graphs, and charts may be useful when the problem is a rational one, but they are no match when the underlying issue is as emotional as the federal deficit has become.