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‘Sequester’ may be 'dumb,' but most Americans like idea of spending cuts

About 62 percent of Americans see government spending as inefficient and bloated, a new Monitor/TIPP poll shows. They also much prefer general spending cuts to tax hikes or cuts in entitlement programs.

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“We will get through this,” Mr. Obama said Friday. “This is not going to be an apocalypse, I think, as some people have said. It's just dumb, and it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt individual people and it's going to hurt the economy overall.”

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The sequester, which arrived on March 1 as the two political parties declined to hash out an alternative spending plan, seeks to lop about $85 billion from fiscal year 2013 spending. The biggest federal programs are mostly exempt, but the cuts generally go across the board.

Another question in the Monitor/TIPP poll (conducted Feb. 25 to March 5, with a 3.4 percentage point margin of error) asked Americans to choose a preferred approach for reducing the nation’s debt. Some 62 percent preferred “cutting general government spending,” while 17 percent chose “increasing taxes” and 14 percent said “reforming entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.”

Budget experts generally say one or both of the least-popular choices – tax hikes or less-generous entitlements – will ultimately be needed to prevent a debt from growing into a millstone-size economic problem.

Given that reality, the poll also asked people what they’d opt for if they had to choose between tax hikes or entitlement cuts, such as a one-year boost in the eligibility age for Social Security. On this question, 49 percent opted for entitlement reform, and 39 percent said they’d rather get tax hikes.

Although opinion surveys don’t reveal any abiding love for the sequester approach, one recently found Americans taking a lesser-of-evils view toward it.

A Fox News poll found that 57 percent of Americans agree with the view that "the only way to get the deficit under control is through actions like the automatic spending cuts,” whereas only 29 percent said Congress could get the job done without such a self-imposed threat.

Many budget forecasters say federal deficits are likely to decline over the next couple of years, even if the sequester cuts were canceled, due to rising tax revenue and an improving economy.

But proponents of addressing the nation’s high public debt say such spending cuts and other deficit-reduction measures are still needed.

On that front, even if entitlements are the central challenge, that doesn’t mean that it’s pointless to look for greater efficiency across the discretionary side of the budget. Several studies in recent years have concluded that federal agencies have lagged behind the private sector in productivity.

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