With the congressional deficit-reduction super committee collapsing into stalemate, a solid majority of Americans say that Congress should block the automatic spending cuts established as a fallback if the panel deadlocked, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
Although a majority of adults said they preferred their member of Congress to compromise on reaching a deficit-reduction agreement, and a plurality said they believed that a deal would benefit the economy, a commanding 61 percent said that Congress should stop the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts now scheduled to be imposed after the committee announced its failure on Monday afternoon.
Last summer’s legislation to raise the debt ceiling, which created the 12-member super committee, established those reductions as the fail-safe mechanism if the group did not recommend at least $1.2 trillion in further deficit reduction. Those cuts, which are divided equally between defense and domestic programs, are slated to start in 2013, but some congressional Republicans have already talked about trying to alter the formula to reduce the impact on defense.
Opposition to proceeding with the automatic cuts was widespread in the poll. They were opposed by three-fifths of whites, and nearly two-thirds of minorities; at least 57 percent of every age group; and 58 percent of independents, 66 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans. The only exception to the pattern: Whites with at least a four-year college degree split almost evenly on whether the cuts should go through.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 1,003 adults by landline and cell phone from Nov. 17-20, 2011. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
That broad resistance to the automatic reductions reflects a general absence of urgency in the survey about dealing with the huge deficit challenge and a resistance to big cuts in key domestic programs.
When respondents were asked what possible outcome from the super committee’s deliberations “concerns you most,” a solid 38 percent plurality said they were most concerned that “it will cut too much from government programs like Medicare and Social Security.” Another 23 percent said they were most concerned that “it will raise taxes on people like you.” That means a decisive three-fifths of respondents were most worried that a plan would either cut spending or raise taxes too much—the principal concerns of each party’s ideological base.
Only 17 percent, by contrast, said they were most concerned that a plan “will not meet its target for reducing the federal deficit and debt.” And just 12 percent said they were most worried that a plan might “allow for too much federal spending in the next few years.”
All of that is virtually identical to the results of a late-July Congressional Connection Poll that asked adults what outcome concerned them most during the debt-ceiling standoff.
Neither side appears poised to win the blame game: A 54 percent majority of respondents said that if the committee failed, they would blame both parties equally. Nineteen percent said they would mostly blame Republicans in Congress; just one in 10 said that President Obama would bear the principal responsibility. Among independents, a resounding 65 percent said they would blame both parties equally.
On the other hand, the poll reinforces earlier Congressional Connection surveys in signaling that Obama has won the argument with the public about including tax increases on upper-income families in any deficit-reduction package. Asked to assess five elements of a possible agreement, poll respondents gave the strongest support to two tax increases that Obama and congressional Democrats favor. By 55 percent to 32 percent, those polled said they would support limiting the value of itemized tax deductions for families earning at least $250,000 annually. And by a similar 53 percent to 36 percent, those polled said they would support “letting the Bush tax cuts expire for families earning at least $250,000 a year.” Not only did 53 percent of independents (and 68 percent of Democrats) support allowing the expiration of those tax cuts for the top earners, so also did 37 percent of Republicans.
None of the other three deficit-reduction options tested, all of them focused on constraining spending, received majority backing. Republicans’ call to put “strict limits on how much Washington will spend on Medicaid and Medicare” drew support from 45 percent and opposition from 47 percent of those surveyed. Just one-third backed the GOP’s proposal to freeze domestic discretionary spending through 2019, while more than three-fifths opposed it. The idea floated in both parties to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 didn’t fare any better: Just 35 percent backed it, and 62 percent opposed.
All of these specific preferences were leavened by respondents’ inclination toward compromise. Just 31 percent said they wanted their representative to vote for a deficit-reduction plan “only if it fully reflects your priorities for taxing and spending.” A 53 percent majority said they wanted their representative to vote for a plan “even if it does not fully reflect your priorities, but [was] the only way for Congress to reach agreement.” Most independents, Democrats, and even Republicans—who have often expressed less support for compromise—said they preferred their members to bend to reach an agreement.
Nothing guarantees that this instinct toward conciliation would have allowed Congress to win public support for an ambitious deficit-reduction plan that coupled upper-income tax increases (which the public consistently supports) with cuts in entitlements (which it resists). But the super committee’s deadlock virtually ensures that Washington won’t test that proposition until at least 2013, if ever.
This article appears in the November 22, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.