A troublesome balancing act

Published 1:02 am Friday, March 4, 2011

The predicament must be maddening. Elected officials across the political spectrum are struggling with numbers that don’t add up. From local school boards, city councils and county commissions, to the General Assembly in Raleigh and Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., politicians wrestle with a greased pig known as “the budget.”

On the federal level, most people speak of wanting a smaller government, but several recent surveys reveal significant confusion by a large portion of the population when it comes to federal spending. Many favor spending cuts, but few are willing to bite the proverbial bullet.

Ed Goeas and Nicholas Thompson of The Tarrance Group, a national Republican polling organization, released the results of a national survey this week. One of the key findings was that there is “widespread misperceptions about the state of the federal budget.”

For instance, 63 percent of respondents incorrectly believe that the government spends more on defense and foreign aid than it does on Medicare and Social Security. A similar number of respondents (60 percent) felt the budget could be balanced by simply eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” – not true.

A February poll by YouGov.com asked people for their preference on specific spending cuts. Of eight areas, only “culture and the arts” broke the 50-percent threshold at 56 percent.

President Obama was preparing his State of the Union address in January when USA Today/Gallup conducted a poll that found 59 percent of Americans favored cuts in foreign aid, but nearly two-thirds opposed cuts in Medicare (61 percent), Social Security (64 percent) and education (67 percent).

A CNN/Opinion Research poll taken about the same time found 71 percent of respondents favored a legislative agenda that would reduce the size of the government. But when it came to specific cuts, only foreign aid received a large majority (81 percent). Most people opposed cuts to veterans’ benefits (85 percent), Medicare (81 percent), Social Security (78 percent), education (75 percent) and Medicaid (70 percent).

Most people who earn a paycheck are confronted with the reality of balancing their budgets. If income drops, you are forced to make difficult decisions to cut spending on restaurants, movies and vacations.

Faced with current budget deficits at all levels of government, we need to come to the realization that the only way out is to cut spending, increase taxes, or both.

It might be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the only way to restore budgetary balance.