U.S. soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps board an Air Force C-17 at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., in 2010. A new poll showed that more Americans favor cutting the Defense Department budget than any other area. (Staff Sgt. Jason Robertson / U.S. Army)
For Pentagon officials, defense-sector CEOs and congressional hawks, it is perhaps the most inconvenient of all truths: Most Americans want Washington to spend less on the military.
More Americans pointed to the Defense Department and wars than to any other issue when asked for their opinion about areas where Washington spends too much, according to a new poll released Jan. 30.
Twenty-one percent pointed to Pentagon and war spending, with 17 percent identifying federal-employee salaries and campaigns, states the Reason-Rupe poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Thirteen percent pointed to welfare and social programs, with the same percentage citing foreign aid.
But such data often is excluded from the kinds of breathless warnings uttered for the last 18 months by Pentagon leaders, industry executives and hawkish lawmakers about pending defense budget shrinkage.
The poll of 1,000 American adults asked participants about the 2013 Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President Obama early this month. “Congress passed, and the president recently signed, a $633 billion defense bill for 2013,” states a summary of the poll. “To help balance the budget, do you favor or oppose cutting defense spending?”
Forty-nine percent responded they “favor” defense cuts, with 45 percent voicing opposition. Six percent of respondents either refused to answer or said they do not know how they feel on the issue.
Asked to state just how big Pentagon spending cuts should be, 82 percent of respondents committed to a percentage reduction. (Eighteen percent said they do not know by how much the Pentagon budget should be cut.) Within that 82 percent, 15 percent supported no cuts, with 21 percent calling for cuts of between 1 percent and 10 percent, according to the poll.
Forty-seven percent of respondents support defense budget cuts of 10 percent or higher, according to the Reason-Rupe poll. Within this group, 25 percent support reductions of between 10 percent and 25 percent, and 14 percent support cuts between 25 percent and 50 percent. The remaining 8 percent want cuts between 50 percent and 100 percent.
The poll was conducted Jan. 17-21 via the phone — mobile phones and landlines — and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.
It was released as lawmakers and the White House are mulling how, and whether, to further delay or possibly avoid $500 billion in cuts to planned military spending over the next decade.
With more than a month to go before a March 1 deadline to either delay or void those cuts without a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction deal, it appears likely those cuts will be triggered — at least temporarily. But congressional hawks and members with big defense sector and military footprints in their districts and states still want to avoid the cuts.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters during separate Jan. 29 gaggles they are “hopeful” the pending defense cuts can be avoided. McCain called for Obama to do more; Democrats like Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., say congressional Republicans have repeatedly shot down Democratic efforts to delay the defense cuts by years.
And Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., whose commonwealth has one of the nation’s biggest presence of defense-sector facilities and military bases, told Defense News Jan. 29 that “we have to do something because the sequester is the dumbest of all ways to do more cuts … because you cannot build two-thirds of a Navy ship.”
“I know there’s that mindset in Washington,” Warner said during a brief interview, “that says, ‘Let’s see how much pain we have to inflict before we act rationally,’ [which] seems increasingly senseless.”