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What federal spending should be axed? US public has its own ideas.

In recent opinion polls, the US public gives Congress a starting place to look for cuts in federal spending. Energy industries and 'earmarks' top the list, but there's more.

By Staff writer / March 4, 2011

As Republicans and Democrats in Washington bargain and bait each other over how to cut federal spending, they're both trying to please a key bystander: the US voting public.

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So, what does the public want to see?

Some new surveys of public opinion suggest that American voters are more engaged in the debate, and perhaps readier to embrace tough choices, than they have been in many years.

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That's not to say that cuts in, say, Social Security benefits would go down easily. Americans are even reluctant to embrace many spending cuts that would have little direct impact on their own pocketbooks – like the idea of eliminating public funds for National Public Radio (NPR).

But since the recession, the public has become more concerned about the economic threat posed by chronic federal deficits. Although they share politicians' penchant for wishful thinking, ordinary Americans appear ready to accept at least a degree of shared sacrifice to resolve fiscal problems.

Here's what's on the public "would-cut" list, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: subsidies for the oil and gas industries, nuclear power subsidies, "earmarks" by individual lawmakers for special projects, weapons the Defense Department says it doesn't need, and general domestic spending (support for a five-year freeze is strong).

The poll also found support for some curbs in entitlements. Gradually raising the retirement age to 69 (from 67) by 2075 was "acceptable" to 56 percent of Americans, and reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits for wealthier retirees was supported by 62 percent.

And although the idea lacked majority support, 44 percent of Americans in the poll deemed it "acceptable" to gradually transform Medicare into a program in which seniors would get government-issued vouchers to buy private health insurance.

"There is a public view that something has to be done about the federal deficit ... [and that] you can't do it just by taxing the rich and getting rid of fraud and abuse," says Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, based in Hamden, Conn.

Quinnipiac's latest national poll of voting Americans, released this week, registered that result with dollar signs attached.


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