In other words, few are willing or think they should have to bear the pain personally. Instead of less government, they really want big government that’s just as big but costs less.
These poll results are the epitome of the “there must be no pain” mentality that typifies today’s budget stalemate. Foreign aid is seen as benefiting someone else in a galaxy far, far away, so reducing it won’t hurt a bit. And unless you live in Houston or along the East Coast of Florida or work for a contractor, that’s also the reason NASA — which actually has programs for galaxies far, far away — is close to foreign aid in unpopularity.
That’s also why any talk about Washington doing less of almost everything else — from Medicare to transportation to education to the Pentagon — spurs angry rallies at town hall meetings and gets multiple lobbyists hired.
It’s also why proposals such as eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” that supposedly reduce the deficit without imposing any pain because they don’t specify what is actually wasteful, fraudulent and abusive are such perennial favorites. They promise deficit alchemy — the fiscal equivalent of getting rich by turning less precious metal into gold — that’s backed by just as little science.
This year’s budget stalemate made the situation worse than it has ever been, with even more talk about turning deficit reduction into economic gold. For example, until military contractors realized how much the spending cuts triggered by the anything-but-super committee’s failure would hurt, there was little or no mention about the pain caused by reductions in government spending. Indeed, the talk up to then was about how spending could be cut without it having an effect on jobs, income, profits or gross domestic product growth.
There will be no serious deficit reduction effort until this changes — that is, until there’s a dramatically increased recognition that a serious deficit reduction plan is going to be painful. It will also require that anyone who says otherwise lose their credibility.
Without that, the budget stalemate in Washington will continue, and that will hurt.
Stan Collender is a partner at Qorvis Communications and founder of the blog Capital Gains and Games. He is also the author of “The Guide to the Federal Budget.”