People Still Need More Information on the Budget

Steve Novick

“These figures highlight a massive failure of leadership from both Republicans and Democrats among the nation’s political elite,” Rasmussen said. “Given the amount of political chatter about the budget in recent years, it is almost beyond comprehension that neither party has seen fit to highlight the basics, so that the American people can make reasoned choices on the fundamental issues before them.”

As I think I mentioned a couple months back, I'm taking a bit if a break from partisan political activity. But I guess I am incapable of taking too much of a break from my sixteen-year obsession with the need to get the public better information about where tax dollars go.

I don't know how I missed this, but in April both Rasmussen and the Economist did polls on this topic. Rasmussen asked people, straight up, if they thought it was true or false that over 50% of the Federal budget goes to Social Security, Medicare and defense. (It is true.) 44% said 'no'; 35% said 'yes'; the rest didn't know.

The Economist asked people if they'd rather cut spending or raise taxes, 62% said cut spending. Then they gave people a list of things and asked them if they wanted to cut them. Only one category - foreign aid - drew even 30% support for cuts. Over 70% wanted to cut foreign aid. But only 17% wanted to cut "aid to the poor"; 22% wanted to cut defense; 11% Medicaid; less than 10% Social Security and Medicare.

As I've said before: I don't think Americans are hypocrites. I don't think Americans are stupid. I just don't think political types - in either party, at least on the national level - have made it a priority to let people know how their money is being spent. Which is kind of weird, because, given that Americans seem, at least at first blush, to approve of all the major categories of spending, wouldn't the party in power always have an incentive to say "hey, we're spending on your priorities"?

Anyway ... Until we do let people know where their tax dollars go, neither party will have the right to honestly claim that the public is with them on bigger government vs. smaller government.

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    Sorry Mr Novick we dont need any more info on the budget to make a decision on the budget because the private sector is much smarter than your liberals think.You are the same guy that the Portland public Schools wasted 5,000.00 on a few yeras ago on a consulting contract to study how to be stimulated.

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    Unless you can find a way to combine budget data with American Idol, I doubt the populace would give a rats arse.

    Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) wrote in 1811: “Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle merite.” ("Every nation has the government it deserves.")

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      Hey Michael, So what, exactly, do you have against this nation? On balance, I'd say this is one of the greatest nations yet. Why wouldn't it have one of the greatest governments? If corporate influence were removed it would be hard to find a better one. Which nation's government do you prefer and why?

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        I'll let Michael speak for himself, but I think his comment is much more fact than opinion.

        Poll after poll shows Americans don't know jack about history, their government, etc. but know a lot about TV shows. I suppose you have the right to believe this is a good thing.

        Since you asked about other nice places to live I'll give my two cents. If you look at categories like rates of violent crime, universal healthcare, education, environmental responsibility, social justice, gender equity, infant mortality, family time, vacation time..... many Western European countries frankly kick our butts. Scandinavia dominates these categories.

        Something else worth noting is that these same countries are the least religious democracies. America, the most religious western democracy scores poorly in nearly all of these categories.

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    Steve, Michael makes a good point: we have to transform this effort from "informing" the public (yawn) into a story about the health of our nation's democracy. and it has to be a damn interesting story. we have the tools - Facebook, YouTube, etc - but we haven't come up with the format. if we could get Bill Nye to do something like this, maybe with Paula Poundstone -- something fun, something captivating, and yet something that gets the message across. and to somehow do that without it being partisan.... it's what we need, but how we accomplish that, not sure.

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    As usual, Steve, you've hit the nail on the head. The biggest budgetary challenge we face at the federal, state and local level is the gap between the government we want and the government we're willing to pay for.

    On the spending side, voters want to believe that you can balance the budget by increased efficiency and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. If that's not enough, just eliminate those unspecified low-priority programs that nobody really needs.

    On the revenue side, as a last resort, people will reluctantly support taxes that someone else pays. That's assuming they haven't convinced themselves that cutting tax rates actually generates additional revenue.

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      Jack, on 1 and 2 - you're exactly right.

      On 3 - you're right, but there's an important point here: Middle-class Oregonians are RIGHT to want to raise taxes that someone else will pay.

      We've dramatically shifted the tax burden in this state from businesses to individuals - and among businesses, from big business to small business; and among individuals, from the wealthiest to the middle class.

      As for this... That's assuming they haven't convinced themselves that cutting tax rates actually generates additional revenue. ... careful Jack, you're going to get kicked out of the Elephant Club.

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    Jack's right, again, as is Kari, though I do think the gap is not only between what we want and what we're wiling to pay for, but also a gap in people's understanding of, appreciation for and acknowledgment of the role of public structures in achieving the society they want.

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    I'm really glad to see you back commenting, Steve. No one dies it better.

    Chuck has really hit the nail on the head here. So many people just have no understanding of the link between the society they want and the importance of public structures in getting to that society.

    It is tough work to keep pushing against this collective ignorance, but we need to do it.

    And you have a unique ability to at least catch the attention of everyone and focus it, even for just a millisecond, on the right questions.

    Keep it up

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    One thing we need to get a handle on if we want to understand where our money goes is how a policy goal is achieved across agencies. It would be useful to have program budgets, not just agency budgets, so we can see more easily how several agencies are spending money on the same goals.

    A case in point for that would be a unified economic development budget. Let's see, in one place, all the tax expenditures, grants, low-interest loans, etc that supposedly exist to create jobs. And let's see some criteria and actual data by which to judge whether they are actually working.

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    Do you think too many Americans are overweight because there isn't enough information out there on good nutrition?

    The information necessary to make reasoned political choices is out there and most voters have been exposed to it. The problem is voters have also been exposed to, and gladly accepted, intentional misinformation because its so much more palatable to believe.

    We can cut taxes and reduce the deficit. We can make education a priority and not effect other vital services. If we just cut government regulation and taxes the economy will grow and so will tax revenues. Public employee benefits aren't part of the problem with funding k-12.

    The failure is in parts of our political leadership. Whether the motivation is careerism, individual monetary gain, or aliegance to a hidden long range political agenda to drown government I don't know.

    Regardless, ultimately, its a failure of character and lack of honesty.

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      Rob, I would say that the more information on good nutrition, the more people change habits to be healthier. Is everyone healthier? No. But are some? Yes.

      Nobody is saying that an increase in information is going to make government perfect. But better? Yup.

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    I predict that, come November, when the report from Obama's Deficit Commission is due, we will, once again, discover that neither party is the friend of the wage-earner. And the recommended cuts to Social Security benefits will fly in the face of public opinion, but the Dems (most of them) will stick to their guns and ride out the storm (to mix metaphors). Just like they did with NAFTA.

    Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles are leading the commission. Both have made statements calling for SS benefits cuts. Even Andy Stern, lately of SEIU, recommends cuts to Social Security benefits. And, recently, Dem leadership (Steny Hoyer) made a similar proposal.

    So, here's how it goes: wage-earners loan their hard-earned money to the federal government, but the federal government decides to welsh. Contrast that with the treatment given to investment banks.

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      Exactly. Rather than an increase in retirement age or lifting the cap on wages income subject to Social Security tax, what should be considered is a surcharge on everyones income tax and earmark it to repay SS for the money that went into the general fund to pay for 30 years of tax cuts.

      An income tax surcharge would be progressive, fairly make those who got higher tax cuts chip in to repay more of the borrowed money, and most significantly would assess part of the cost of repaying SS and stabilizing the fund onto people with dividend and interest income, not just wage income. And thats not because it should become a welfare based benefit, its because the non wage income set received tax relief by having the gov't use SS taxes to fund our society for the last 30 years.

      Since 1981 decreased income taxes on capital gains, dividend, interest and high wage earners. Now to pay for that, they propose Increasing retirement age and lifting caps on wage income subject to SS? These two action, in essence retroactively convert the past 30 years of funding of the federal government away from high income people and particualrly people who have interest, dividend and capital gains income, and onto the middle and low income wage earners.

      Rather than asking laborors to labor until they're 70 years old before retirement, or asking people making a paycheck of 100,000 - 250,000 to give another 13.5% of their income to the government, why don't we assesst a 2-3% surcharge onto everyones income tax obligation who has any income of over $50,000/year or so.

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      I think there's a difference between benefit cuts and telling today's 35-year-olds that they're going to retire at 70 instead of 67.

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        Thats true. I'm not sure how they're going to phase in the increased retirement age. But I thought I'd had heard them say that it won't effect anyone over 58. But if its 35, point taken..

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    Of course the Deficit Commission report will be issued after the midterm election. Why else would it be held off until (late) November?

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    “Anyway ... Until we do let people know where their tax dollars go, neither party will have the right to honestly claim that the public is with them on bigger government vs. smaller government.”

    What we do know is that if you provide people w/ jobs and a better life they tend to appreciate it…a lot.

    In 1935 a Gallop poll asked Americans if the govt was spending, too much, just the right amount, or not enough. 60% said too much.

    FDR didn't pay much attention to the poll, greatly expanded government, drastically increasing spending and won in a landslide. Who cares what the polls say, we know what works for economic recovery and we know what makes people’s lives better.

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    Kari Chisholm,

    If the higher retirement age is to be that far away in years, why are Hoyer and Boehner talking about the higher retirement age being an important part of balancing the budget in the near term?

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