Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The long-awaited return of The Political Doctor!

Hello again, friends! After a long layoff during which I completed my Pediatrics residency and getting a job back home in Akron, it's time once again to fire up the computing machine and share my political thoughts with the world! Aren't you lucky?!

Let's begin again by returning to my "What is everyone so angry about" series. In Part 1 and Part 2, we discussed the distortions and outright lies that Republicans were using to demonize the President as an un-American Marxist in order to provide cover for refusing to negotiate with him. Now we will discuss why voters are so vulnerable to these tactics.

The average voter is woefully misinformed and/or ignorant about the federal budget.

Some facts before we begin. Here's a rundown of where the money actually goes. Highlights include 67% of spending going to Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid/CHIP, defense spending, and interest on the debt. Another 14% goes to safety net programs like unemployment insurance, food stamps, low-income housing assistance, school lunches, and such.

In a poll in November 2010, when the Tea Party made their historic gains in Congress and state legislatures, Americans were asked what percentage of the federal budget they thought went to foreign aid, and then what percentage they think should be spent. The median responses were that 25% of the budget (which would work out to about $900 billion/year) was sent to other countries, and that an ideal amount of aid would be 10%.

The actual percentage of the federal budget for foreign aid is less than 1%.

When it comes to military spending, most voters vastly underestimate how much we spend. The defense budget for 2011 is about $719 billion(.pdf). This represents about a fifth of the total federal budget and is about 7 times the amount spent by any other country. A Rasmussen Reports survey from earlier this year finds that only 25% of voters think that we should spend even 3 times as much any other country and 40% think we should spend less than that. Reducing our military spending to only 3 times the next closes country would save us $400 billion a year and would result in 10-year savings of around double the savings agreed to in the budget battle last month.

Since my last post, I called into a nationally-syndicated right-wing radio show, The War Room, to correct the host on the amount of spending on earmarks. He said several times during a rant that there are "hundreds of billions wasted on earmarks", when in fact the actual number is about $16 billion a year.

A poll(.pdf) from March 2011 shows that voters believe, on average, that 42 cents of every federal dollar are wasted. Wasted!!! A stunning 60% of voters think that our deficit problems can be eliminated by simply eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse". As mentioned above, the vast majority of government spending is in popular programs like Medicare, Social Security and defense, which voters consistently say they don't want to be cut (.pdf).

To the average voter who belives these falsities, it would be pretty easy to become frustrated and angry with President Obama for not doing more to cut the "waste, fraud and abuse", which of course no one would miss. Republicans capitalized on this anger by running a vague campaign in favor of "spending cuts". Voters, the media and their Democratic opponents never provoked Republicans to get specific about where they would cut, so they were able to skate into office without taking politically-bold stands about which popular programs (Medicare, Social Security, etc.) they would cut.

In my next post (which won't be 17 months from now, I promise!), we'll discuss the Paul Ryan budget (.pdf), which would replace the current Medicare program with vouchers, or, if you prefer, premium supports. Sneak preview: it would result in a huge cost increase for future seniors who, as current non-senior workers, would essentially have to pay a new tax today to save for their increased future costs.


NWest said...

The definition of "Waste, Fraud, and Abuse" is so nebulous as to be practically meaningless.

"Abuse" - People under 40 paying for old people to have their 2nd home in florida for the winter. Perhaps we could cut the folks with a net worth > $1 million SS benefits, for starters? As an aside - for nearly all of known history, children were socially expected to take care of their parents when they got old. Why is it the government's job all of a sudden?

"Fraud" - Politicians giving ~$20 billion in kickbacks to the agricultural lobby in the form of subsidies. Defense contractors selling the pentagon all sorts of things that they don't even want because an infulential congressperson decided that the pentagon should have it anyway, since it is manufactured in that congressperson's district. Civil Service unions getting people salaries and benefits that far outshine the private sector.

"Waste" - locking up nonviolent drug offenders for years. federal bunny inspectors. Military bases overseas in allied countries - England? Japan? Germany?

My point is that polls such as that are meaningless, since everyone has a different idea of what Waste, Fraud, and Abuse are.

PoliticalDoctor said...

Whatever your definition, it's not possible to eliminate the deficit without going beyond these 3 things, no matter how nebulously they're defined. I agree with many of the things you suggest, but they only add up to a drop in the bucket, and even these things aren't pure "waste/fraud/abuse", as each are not entirely worthless.