November 22 2011
Americans Don't Want Washington to Fail at Reform
Carrie L. Lukas
Is anyone really surprised that the Super Committee is failing to reach a deal to cut $1.2 trillion over ten years from the federal budget?
Surely, the answer is no. This seems almost the inevitable conclusion of the predictable drama that began last summer, when last minute, debt ceiling negotiations punted the bigger budget questions to a Congressional “Super Committee” to convene in the fall. The Super Committee has done what all committees seem to do—they've held public hearings and now emergency, weekend-negotiating sessions—and will now regretfully report there's no agreement.
The Super Committee's failure means that $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts (disproportionately to defense spending) will commence in 2013. Maybe. Unless Congress acts to restore that funding and nullify the cuts, which it seems nearly certain to do.
Yes, it's business-as-usual Washington, even as we enter economic times that are anything but business-as-usual. The good news is that Americans know this can't go on forever.
Opinion poll junkies know that Americans support cutting government spending in general (for example, see this Gallup poll in which 50 percent of Americans believe cutting spending is the key to closing the deficit, compared to just 11 percent who believe tax increases will do the trick). Yet when it comes to specific programs—particularly items like Social Security, Medicare, and education—majorities object to spending reductions.
Research also suggests, however, that with a little education and the right reassurances, voters can come to support making needed cuts, even to these celebrated programs. For example, a new poll conducted by the polling company™ for the Independent Women's Voice of Iowa Republican voters found that when those voters were reminded that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid already comprise 41 percent of the federal budget, by a two-to-one margin voters support restructuring federal entitlement programs. Importantly, 43 percent of surveyed voters strongly reject the notion that business-as-usual can continue on entitlement spending, compared to just 14 percent who felt that it could.
Voters want reassurance that precautions are taken to protect those already receiving benefits and those most dependent on the safety net during any reform effort. That's already a baseline criteria for any serious proposal. Politicians offering proposals universally begin by holding existing beneficiaries harmless. Changes are targeted at upper-income beneficiaries, and in many case, reformed programs end up more generous toward those with lower-incomes.
Therefore, would-be reformers should recognize that the key to success lies with seizing the biggest microphone possible. Instead of cowering at the thought of future liberal attack ads, they should work tirelessly to have their side of the story covered. They can be confident that if their message breaks through, it's one that the American people will want to hear.
The Independent Women's Voice's poll focused on discerning Iowa Republican voters' priorities. Notably this included not only taking on entitlement spending, but also repealing ObamaCare and recognizing that the government ruling class is far more of a threat than the “top one percent” of earners (read more about this poll in the Wall Street Journal). While Republican voters may be more inclined to messages about entitlement reform, other research suggests that this is a message that could resonate with Independents too. This survey conducted last year by Doug Schoen for the Independent Women's Voice focused exclusively on Independent voters. It found that overwhelmingly Independents are concerned about government spending and believe government spends too much. Independents support the concept of a government safety net, but they also believe existing programs are too expansive and should better focus on those truly in need.
During the past year, Americans have witnessed numerous events that should heighten their appetite for entitlement reform. We've watched increased economic turmoil in Europe, as too generous social welfare programs drown countries in debt. Across the country, state and local governments have increasingly called for reform to their own public pension systems that burden taxpayers payers while providing government workers with super-sided benefits. The Occupy Wall Street movement—while incoherent and ultimately self-destructive—succeeded in drawing attention to the economic challenges that confront younger Americans.
The time is ripe for a sensible discussion about how federal entitlement programs—which overwhelmingly transfer resources from the young to the old—cannot continue on their current path without dragging down the economy.
This Super Committee's stalemate helps clarify the stakes of the next election. Washington as currently constructed isn't up to the challenge of making needed reforms to government or to controlling government spending. We need new leadership in Washington. American voters are the only ones who can make that change happen.