In the federal budget stalemate, the majority of American adults are calling on lawmakers to do the impossible: reduce the overall size of government, but also spend more money on the most popular and expensive programs.
Six in 10 American adults say the government spends too much money. But majorities also favor more funding for infrastructure, health care and social security — the kind of commitments that would make efforts to cut government impractical and politically risky before the 2024 election.
These results from a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll show just how messy the financial tussle between President Joe Biden and House Republicans could be. At stake is the full faith and credit of the federal government, which could default on its obligations unless there is an agreement this summer to raise or suspend the limit on the government’s borrowing power.
Biden proposed a budget this month that would cut deficits by nearly $3 trillion over 10 years, but his plan contains a mix of tax increases on the wealthy and new spending that has led GOP lawmakers to declare him dead on his arrival. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, insists on budget talks with the White House, but did not produce its own plan to reduce deficitsWho Biden said is a prerequisite for negotiations.
The new poll finds American adults are sharply divided on whether they want to see a bigger government with more services or a smaller government with fewer services. But a clear majority – 60% – say they think the government is spending too much in total. Only 16% say the government spends too little, while 22% say spending levels are about right.
American adults were previously less supportive of spending cuts, a possible sign of how the pandemic and a historic burst of aid to deal with it have reshaped politics. Compared to 60% now, 37% called for spending cuts in February 2020, as COVID-19 began to spread across the United States In May, even fewer, 25%, wanted less spending, after that the virus has forced major disruptions in public life, the economy and the healthcare system.
Pensioner Peter Daniluk acknowledged the tensions surrounding the federal budget, saying the government may have been “a little too big” but “money needs to be spent to make things better.” The 78-year-old from Dryden, New York, voted for Biden and believes there should be more funding for the environment and the military, while preserving Social Security and Medicare.
“The rich don’t pay enough tax – that’s the problem,” he said. “They know how to avoid paying their fair share.”
Inflation surged as the US economy recovered from the pandemic. GOP lawmakers blamed Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package for rising prices as they pushed for spending cuts, while president says inflation reflects global factors involving supply chains and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Federal spending is expected to account for about 24% of all U.S. economic activity over the next several years, a figure that will likely rise as the aging population leads to higher Social Security and Medicare spending. disease. Government spending was just 20.5% of US gross domestic product a decade ago, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Even though a majority of adults want a tighter budget, the challenge for lawmakers trying to strike a deal is that the public also wants higher spending on a wide range of programs. While Biden has rolled out a budget that would cut deficits largely through tax hikes on the wealthy, GOP lawmakers have so far struggled to agree on a series of spending cuts. — and even if they did, the White House is betting their plan would upset voters. .
About 6 in 10 adults say the government spends too little on education, health care, infrastructure and social security, as well as poor relief and health insurance. About half say the government spends too little on border security, childcare assistance, drug rehabilitation, the environment and law enforcement.
By comparison, a large majority – 69% – say the United States spends too much on aid to other countries. But cutting foreign aid would have almost no impact on the overall size of government, since it accounts for less than 1% of all federal spending, and major programs such as Social Security and Medicare drive up the size of government over the next few years. decade.
Glenn Cookinham, 43, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said inflation and health care spending are major issues facing the United States as a country right now. A Republican who views Biden as “OK,” Cookinham feels the United States could withdraw military funding to focus on its own internal challenges.
“I don’t think we should police the rest of the world, really,” he said.
About a third of American adults say military spending is too low and almost as many say it’s too much; a further third say it is about right.
Bipartisan majorities support more spending on infrastructure and social security. But big differences between the parties on other priorities could be a sticking point in budget discussions.
Most Republicans say too much is spent on aid to big cities (65% vs. just 19% of Democrats), and about half say too much is spent on the environment (51% vs. just 6% of Democrats) . Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the military, law enforcement and border security are underfunded. By comparison, far more Democrats say too little is spent on helping the poor (80% vs. 38% of Republicans), the environment (73% vs. 21% of Republicans), child care children (71% vs. 34% of Republicans), drug rehabilitation (67% vs. 36% of Republicans), and scientific research (54% vs. 24% of Republicans).
There is also a generational break in terms of priorities. Young adults are more likely than older adults to say too little is spent on the environment and helping big cities, while more older adults say too little is spent on infrastructure, military, law enforcement and border security. Young adults are particularly likely to feel that too much is spent in these areas.
For people aged 30 to 44, who are particularly likely to have school-aged children, the government wants to spend more on education.
The poll of 1,081 adults was conducted March 16-20 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.