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April 2, 2013

President Barack Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request is at odds with the majority of Americans’ views on Social Security, according to recent Pew Research Center polling of some 1,500 Americans. Obama has proposed to modify how regular Social Security benefit increases are calculated by switching to a "chained" Consumer Price Index (CPI) to determine the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which would lead to benefit cuts for Social Security recipients over time. Social Security is extremely popular with 87 percent of Americans who support maintaining or increasing spending in this area.

Aside from the president’s proposal, only the Republican Study Committee’s FY 14 budget plan proposed decreasing Social Security benefits. The budget plan from the Republican chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), only recommended that “the President and Congress to work together to forge a solution for Social Security” – essentially putting the ball in the president’s court. Senior administration officials have described the proposal to cut Social Security benefits as a good-faith effort to compromise on earned benefit programs in order to entice Republicans to the negotiating table to reach a fiscal “grand bargain” on spending and revenues.

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In other areas of spending analyzed by the Center for Effective Government, the president’s budget is closest to the plan put forth by the chair of Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

Aside from Social Security, the president’s plan also hews closer to the investments Americans want their government to make compared to the two major House Republican budget plans.

  • Education. While 89 percent of Americans polled support maintaining or increasing spending on education, both Ryan’s and the Republican Study Committee’s (RSC) budget blueprints cut the purchasing power of Pell Grants to pay for tuition and slash funding for improving teacher quality and student achievement. By contrast, the president’s budget and two congressional Democratic plans analyzed would expand support for education.

  • Transportation and infrastructure spending to maintain, repair, and build roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure – critical to the broad economic success of the nation – is another area of spending with broad popular support, with some 81 percent polled stating that they want spending maintained or increased. The president’s plan and the two Democratic congressional plans increase spending here, with especially large increases in the Congressional Progressive Caucus plan. The Ryan and RSC budgets plan cuts in this part of the budget.

  • Defense is among the most “popular” major budget categories that Americans think should be cut back. But even then, defense spending is still seen by a majority as an area that should be shielded from spending reductions. Only 24 percent of Americans polled by Pew say defense should be cut. Defense is the only major area where the Ryan and RSC budgets appear to line up with the public’s views, as they would essentially do nothing to cut defense spending. The president’s plan seeks only $100 billion in defense spending reductions over ten years, and Murray’s plan seek $240 billion in defense savings. The sole plan that seeks relatively deep cuts to defense is the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s.

  • Aid for the poor. A majority of Americans – 71 percent – also want to increase or maintain aid for the needy here in the U.S. Slightly more Americans (27 percent) want this aid increased than those who want it cut (24 percent). The Ryan and RSC budgets deeply cut food assistance programs and Medicaid. The president’s and Murray plans maintain them, whereas the Progressive plan greatly expands spending.

Although Americans consistently state that reducing the deficit should be a priority, repeated polling by Pew has shown that the majority of Americans reject reductions in the vast majority of specific areas of spending. A plurality of Americans supports maintaining most programs at their current levels, according to Pew’s February pre-sequestration poll, and a majority supports increasing education funding.

Methodology note: The Center for Effective Government analyzed five different budget plans: Obama’s FY 2014 Budget Request, Ryan’s “The Path to Prosperity,” the RSC’s “Back to Basics,” Murray’s “Foundation for Growth,” and the House Congressional Progressive Caucus’s “Back to Work Budget.”

The areas of spending selected were defense, scientific research, transportation/infrastructure, Affordable Care Act, aid for the poor (focused on support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps) and Medicaid), and education (with an eye toward impacts to Head Start and Pell Grants). These areas were picked because of Pew’s polling data on those broad categories, the ability to determine each budget plan’s impact on them, their intrinsic importance, and the potential to contrast the varying budget plans.

For more information, contact Nick Schwellenbach, Senior Fiscal Policy Analyst at the Center for Effective Government at 202-683-4860 or

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