The debate over where to cut the federal budget has been raging in the nation's capital over the past month. The issue has been cast as a choice between spending for defense and national security and spending for social programs. But this does not jibe with the sentiment of the American people.
According to a recent ABC News Harris survey of 1,202 adults nationwide, Americans are far more selective about where cuts should be made than some of the rhetoric in Washington would indicate. Here are the key areas in which sizable numbers of Americans oppose cuts in federal spending:
At the top of the list is "Social Security payments," in which 74 percent oppose any cutbacks while 23 percent favor them. A 61-32 percent majority is opposed to any cut in the stepped-up Social Security taxes. Citizens are aware that the Social Security system is the underpinning of the nation's retirement plans and they are not willing to see it compromised.
By 64-34 percent, a majority is opposed to cuts in defense spending. By 71-6 percent Americans want defense spending increased to keep pace with Soviet military expansion.
By 63-37 percent, a majority opposes cuts in federal aid to education. Despite widespread criticism of the education system, Americans have not become discenchanted about the amount of federal spending for education.
By 61-37 percent, Americans do not want to see federal spending for health care cut.
By 54-42 percent, a majority opposes cuts in spending for mass transportation. This latest result marks a rise over previous surveys in support for mass transit, and reflects a growing realization on the part of Americans that mass transportation must be improved to conserve energy.
The top five candidates targeted for cuts in federal spending:
By 82-14 percent, a majority favors cutting back federal funds for foreign economic aid.
By 77-20 percent, a majority favors trimming foreign military aid.
By 77-20 percent, a majority favors cutting spending by federal regulatory agencies, which are viewed by 40 percent of the people as contributors to inflation.
By 69-22 percent, a majority favors cutting federal subsidies to business. The federal rescue of Chrysler, which was opposed by the public 7-to-1, has put into sharp focus just how much and in what ways the federal government is subsidizing American business.
Finally, by 69-23 percent, a majority also favors cuts in federal welfare spending, a traditional target for budget-cutters.
The mandate for cutting federal spending is a mixed one. It does not neatly reflect the demands either of those who say that spending for social programs must be cut back in a major way or of those who claim that most social programs are sacrosanct. Thus the support of a cutback in federal spending by an overwhelming 84-11 percent majority is at best the expression of a pious hope on the part of Americans, and not necessarily a guide to which parts of the federal budget they want cut and which they want kept intact.
This ABC News-Harris survey was conducted between March 20 and April 5.