As sequestration looms, Americans say to cut basically nothing

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

If you were in charge of government spending, what programs would you cut to reduce the deficit and maybe take a bite out of the debt? A new poll from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center suggests that the answer is: Nothing…well, maybe aid to the world’s poor.

The survey was released one week before automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration are due to start coming into force.

Sure, Pew found just a few weeks ago that 72 percent of Americans say President Barack Obama and Congress should make cutting the deficit a “top priority.” And Pew also found that a majority backs Obama’s call for a blend of cuts and tax increases to stem the tide of red ink.

So Pew asked Americans whether they wanted to cut, maintain or increase spending in 19 areas—from veterans’ benefits to infrastructure to Medicare to crime-fighting. The most vulnerable category turned out to be “aid to the world’s needy,” which 48 percent of respondents said they wanted to decrease,while 49 percent said they either wanted to leave it at current levels (28 percent) or see it increased (21 percent)."

Thirty-four percent would reduce the State Department’s budget. But they’d have to do it over the objections of 46 percent who said they would leave Secretary of State John Kerry’s ledger as is, and 14 percent who would like to see more cash flow to American diplomacy.

Unemployment aid? Thirty-two percent said cut, 41 percent said maintain, and 24 percent said increase. For military spending, 24 percent cut (down from 30 percent two years ago, Pew notes), 41 percent maintain and 32 percent increase. The safest category was veterans' benefits, with just 6 percent saying they would cut them, compared with 38 percent who said they would keep current levels and 53 percent who said they would increase them.

Partisan disagreements? You bet, found Pew. None of the 19 areas listed got a plurality of Democrats voting to cut. But Republicans weren’t all that eager either: Just foreign aid (70 percent) and unemployment assistance (56 percent) got majority GOP support for cuts.