Monday, March 07, 2005

The Budget You Want, Not the Budget You've Got 

Oftentimes, when we are just about ready to give up altogether on the American people, we get an encouraging reminder that the majority of them are sane after all -- ignorant, perhaps even willfully ignorant, but sane. You may recall a poll conducted last fall by PIPA, the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which showed that a majority of Bush supporters could not inentify their candidate's position on a variety of key issues. Now the same organization has shown 1,182 Americans Mr. Bush's proposed discretionary budget and asked them how they would allocate the same resources, and it should not surprise you to learn that the priorities of most Americans are radically different from those of the man they put in office last November. In fact, most Americans seem to want a lot more of all the things Grover Norquist and his friends are hoping to drown in the bathtub:
Sixty-one percent of respondents redirected some funds to reducing the budget deficit, with the mean respondent reallocating $36 billion (Democrats $39.4 billion, Republicans $29.6 billion), though they were not told anything about the size of the deficit.

Defense spending received the deepest cut, being cut on average 31%—equivalent to $133.8 billion—with 65% of respondents cutting. The second largest area to be cut was the supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan, which suffered an average cut of $29.6 billion or 35%, with two out of three respondents cutting. Also cut were transportation (cut $12.6 billion or 18%), federal administration of justice ($8.7 billion or 21%), and space research and science ($1.2 billion or 5%). Majorities of 53-58% of respondents favored cuts in each of these cases.

The largest increases were for social spending. Spending on human capital was especially popular including education which was increased $26.8 billion (39%) and job training and employment which was up $19 billion or a remarkable 263%. Medical research was upped on average $15.5 billion (53%). Veterans benefits were raised 40% or $12.5 billion and housing went up 31% or $9.3 billion. In most cases clear majorities favored increases (education 57%, job training 67%, medical research 57%, veteran’s benefits 63%), though only 43% of respondents favored increases for housing.

In percentage terms, by far the largest increase was for conserving and developing renewable energy - an extraordinary 1090% or $24 billion—which also had the highest percentage of respondents (70%) favoring an increase. The environment and natural resources received a more modest increase of 32% or $9 billion, with 42% of respondents favoring increases.

As the defense cuts proposed were large, respondents were asked in a separate set of questions what areas they would want to cut. Majorities favored cutting the capability for large-scale nuclear wars, the number of nuclear weapons, and spending on developing new types of nuclear weapons. (Asked how many nuclear weapons the US needs to have on alert, the median response was just 150.) Capabilities for large-scale naval wars and large-scale land wars were both reduced by 58% of respondents. Majorities also favored cutting spending on new types of naval destroyers (55%), bombers (53%), and submarines (52%) and nearly as many cut the inventory for each of these items as well.

However, respondents particularly preserved spending for troops, including for salaries (82%), the overall number of military personnel (61%), and development of new equipment for infantry and Marines (64%). Spending relevant to fighting terrorism was also preserved, such as for intelligence (62%), troops for special operations (58%), and advanced communications systems (69%). Also preserved was spending on capabilities for conducting peacekeeping (58%), fighting insurgents or guerrillas (56%), and work on new types of high-technology missiles and bombs (55%) . . . .

When asked how the US should deal with its military commitments to protect other countries, 69% said that “the US should only spend enough to protect itself and to join in efforts to protect countries together with allies or through the UN.” Only 17% thought the US should spend enough to protect other countries on its own and only 11% said the US should only protect itself and not other countries.

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