Republicans have their work cut out for them as they seek to educate the public about the need for entitlement cuts, according to this new Bloomberg poll: 42 percent of people think cutting foreign aid would have a “very large” effect on the deficit, just 19 percent think cutting Medicare would. Asked whether they favor or oppose “significantly cutting” given programs, 72 favor cutting foreign aid and 66 favor pulling all troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. (This is where the public is solidly with Rand Paul, alas.) But 76 percent oppose cutting Medicare, 77 percent oppose cutting education, 62 percent oppose cutting the EPA, 66 percent oppose cutting community renewal programs aiding the poor, and 72 percent oppose cutting scientific research. Interestingly, only 54 percent oppose both voucherizing Medicare and raising the Social Security age to 69, so those are relatively popular measures. If Paul Ryan could meet with all of America in small groups and do his “Budget 101″ sessions with them, I have no doubt these numbers would turn around. But without the air cover of a presidential candidate, congressional Republicans have a gargantuan public-education task ahead of them.
What’s encouraging is, as indicated in this Resurgent Republic poll, people do support cutting spending as a general matter. This is why I think the debate over the debt ceiling is so important: It’s the perfect vehicle for a tough, general spending limit that is not vulnerable to the political attacks of specific cuts. And if a biting spending limit is written into law, Senate Democrats will be forced to abide by it too, providing more cover for politically difficult cuts. In my view, Republicans would be wise to consider the fight over the current CR only as a skirmish before the much more momentous fight over the debt limit.