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WASHINGTON - As President Obama and Congress debate ways to avert a pending fiscal crisis, the country broadly agrees that they need to cut federal budget deficits. There's solid support for raising taxes on the wealthy, but those tax increases alone wouldn't solve the problem. And cutting spending is extremely difficult.
Look in the mirror for the key to the problem: An ever-increasing number of Americans get a piece of federal spending.
Nearly 150 million Americans -- 49 percent -- receive some government benefit. That includes Social Security, veterans' benefits, Medicare or Medicaid and food stamps, according to Census Bureau figures from last year, the most recent available.
80 million get help from Medicaid, the health insurance for the poor
49 million get Social Security
48 million get food stamps
45 million get Medicare.
Beyond that, there are price supports for farmers. Money for schools. Road, bridge and highway construction programs that employ thousands.
"It's really quite simple: People who get the spending like to keep getting it," said veteran Washington budget analyst Stan Collender.
Numerous polls show widespread enthusiasm for cutting spending in general, but there's resistance to specific trims, he said.
"With the possible exception of foreign aid, and every once in a while NASA, almost nothing has a majority of support for cutting," Collender said. "If you read the public opinion polls, Americans don't want their government to do less, they just want it to cost less."
Indeed, a recent McClatchy-Marist Poll found overwhelming opposition to every option mentioned to cut spending. Fully 85 percent of voters oppose any reductions in Medicare, for example. Fifty-nine percent oppose raising the eligibility age for Medicare. The opposition cuts across party lines, with a majority of Republicans joining Democrats in opposing cuts to Medicare or Medicaid.
Federal spending sent to individuals for entitlements such as food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security has more than doubled as a share of the federal budget, from 25 percent in 1960 to more than 60 percent today.