Americans Want a Budget That Cuts the Deficit

In Unique Survey, Voters Make Their Own Federal Budget, Cut Deficit Over $200 Billion

As anticipation for President Donald J. Trump’s first budget release in the next few weeks reaches a crescendo, there is much debate about whether cutting the deficit should be a priority for the administration. Apparently most American voters think it should be. In a unique survey in which respondents made up their own Federal budget, majorities proposed a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases that would reduce the deficit for 2018 by at least $211 billion. There were partisan differences, but Republicans and Democrats did agree on $80 billion in deficit reductions.

In the survey, initiated by the non-partisan Voice of the People and conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC), a representative sample of 1,817 voters were presented discretionary spending for FY 2017 (broken into 31 line items), and sources of general revenues, actual and proposed. They were then given the opportunity to modify both spending and revenues, getting feedback as they went along about the effect of their choices on the projected deficit. Respondents were not instructed to reduce the deficit, and were able to both increase or decrease spending or revenues.

Overall, majorities cut spending a net of $57 billion. While both Democratic and Republican members of Congress are planning for increases in spending on national defense for 2018, this was the area that received the biggest cut from the public– majorities cut it by $39 billion. Other significant cuts were for subsidies to agricultural corporations ($5 billion), intelligence agencies ($4 billion), homeland security ($2 billion), the State Department ($2 billion) and the space program ($2 billion), plus smaller trims in other areas. The one area to be increased was the development of alternative energy and energy efficiency, which was increased by $2 billion (a 100% increase).

The biggest changes, though, were on the revenue side, which were increased a total of $154.2 billion. The biggest source of revenues ($63.3 billion) arose from increases in personal income taxes for higher earners. Those with incomes over $100,000 saw their taxes go up 5 percent, while those with incomes over $1 million had increases of 10 percent.

“Clearly Americans are concerned about the deficit and are ready to make some tough choices to bring it down—more than Congress is even ready to consider,” said PPC Director Steven Kull.

Other major increases came from an increase in taxes on capital gains and dividends from 23.8 percent to 28 percent ($22 billion), a new transaction fee on financial transactions of 0.01 percent ($20 billion), a 5 percent increase on corporate taxes ($17 billion), a tax on sugary drinks of $.05 an ounce ($9 billion), an increase in the estate tax ($7.8 billion), a fee to banks who have large amounts of uninsured debt ($6 billion), and repeal of the ‘carried interest’ tax break for fund managers ($2.1 billion).

There were significant partisan differences. Republicans only cut $5 billion from defense, while Democrats cut $91 billion. Republicans cut $9 billion from education, while Democrats increased it $3 billion. Republicans cut environmental spending by $6 billion, while Democrats raised it by $1 billion. Most Republicans did not join in on increases to corporate taxes, estate taxes, and taxes on sugary drinks.

Nonetheless, Democrats and Republicans did converge on $80 billion in deficit reductions, including $63.2 billion in revenue increases and $17 billion in spending cuts.

Overall, Democrats made the largest reductions to the deficit of $306.5 billion, with $96 billion in net reductions to spending and $210.5 billion in revenue increases. Republicans made total deficit reduction of $134.2 billion, with $65 billion in spending reductions and $69.2 in revenue increases.

In the survey, respondents went through an online process called a ‘policymaking simulation’ that gives the users information and seeks to put them in the shoes of a policymaker. The content was vetted in advance by Congressional staffers from both parties and other experts to assure accuracy and balance.

The sample was provided by Nielsen Scarborough from its sample or respondents, recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households. The margin of error for the sample of 1,817 voters was (+/-) 2.3 percent.

The full report is available online at http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Federal_Budget_2018_Report.pdf.

The questionnaire is available online at http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Federal_Budget_2018_Quaire.pdf.

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