What do Americans really want?

April 26, 2012

Judging by the heated political rhetoric, you would think there is a great divide in America over the proper role of government. The drama is played out in battles over budgetary policy where one side wants low taxes and small government, and the other favors taxing the rich to pay for government programs.

Interestingly Americans, when faced with making the tough fiscal choices themselves, are remarkably pragmatic.

The Committee for a Responsible Budget since 2010 has invited people to go to its website and figure out how they would cut the U.S. budget debt load, which is fast approaching 100 percent of GDP. They must make specific choices, such as whether to cut farm subsidies or Social Security payments and what tax rates to impose.

Over the past two years, one quarter of a million people have logged onto the budget calculator, and the results show an America willing to compromise:

- 94 percent would reduce the budget deficit through some combination of tax reform and spending cuts

- 82 percent of Republicans supported letting some of the Bush-era tax cuts expire

- 71 percent of Democrats favored raising the retirement age

- 80 percent of those using the Stabilize the Debt calculator chose a mixture of programs that would get the debt load down to 60 percent of GDP by the end of the decade, a level considered sustainable

- Only 4 percent relied exclusively on spending cuts and only 2 percent exclusively on revenue increases

You would never know that from the political stalemate here. Said the CFRB:

Policymakers in Washington could learn a great deal from their constituents when it comes to tackling the national debt. Unlike their representatives in Washington, a majority of Americans are able to find savings across all areas of the budget and reduce the debt substantially.

Not that party preference was absent. Democrats leaned toward higher taxes or reduction in tax exemptions and they made fewer cuts in domestic and economic spending. Republicans relied more heavily on savings in spending programs, especially on health care and Social Security, while independents showed an even greater mixture of savings and opted for more savings in total than either of the two parties.

Still, the figures point to a middle road where Americans presented with the facts are ready for a grand bargain on cutting the budget deficit.

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