The deficit-reduction super committee collapsed on Monday after its members failed to negotiate a proposal to reduce the nation’s debt, and this week’s United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll showed voters likewise struggling to find common, bipartisan ground on specific ways to trim the federal deficit.
The only debt-reduction proposals to earn majority support in the poll involved raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans—either by letting the Bush tax cuts expire or by reducing the value of itemized deductions. Fifty-three percent of voters thought letting the Bush tax cuts expire for families making more than $250,000 a year should be part of the deficit-reduction package, while 55 percent supported reducing the value of itemized deductions for families at that same income level, the poll showed.
But even those proposals lacked the kind of strong, bipartisan support that super-committee members and rank-and-file legislators would have wanted to see in order to lend their support. While Americans overall support letting the Bush tax cuts expire for wealthier families, a 54-percent majority of Republicans thought it should not be part of the final package. On reducing deductions, Republicans were slightly more supportive, but still mixed: 47 percent thought it should be part of the package, and 41 percent did not.
It was not just parts of the Republican coalition that were hesitant about tax increases being part of the deficit package, but groups important to Democrats’ electoral success were also slightly less supportive. Respondents making less than $30,000 a year were split on including an expiration of the Bush tax cuts in the debt package: 45 percent thought it should be part of the package, and 41 percent did not. Fifty-five percent of those making more than $75,000 a year thought the end of the Bush tax cuts should be part of the package.
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. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups.
Other proposals were less popular. Respondents were split on placing “strict limits” on how much the federal government would spend on Medicare and Medicaid, with 45 percent thinking such limits should be part of a deficit-reduction package, and 47 percent thinking they should not. The split was not along party lines, however: Just 51 percent of Republicans supported including such limits, and only 51 percent of Democrats did not.
If members of the super committee were looking for bipartisan agreement, the poll showed that members of both parties—and independents—could come together against some of the other proposals being considered. Raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 was rejected by 62 percent of respondents, including 69 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Republicans, and 61 percent of independents.
Americans also broadly rejected a freeze in federal, nondefense spending through 2019 as part of the debt-reduction package: 62 percent thought that should not be part of the debt package, including a majority of Republicans.
Asked what about a deficit-reduction agreement would worry them the most, a slight plurality, 38 percent, said they worried that it would cut too much from government programs like Social Security and Medicare, including a majority of Democrats and 28 percent of Republicans.
The next-greatest worry was that an agreement would “raise taxes on people like you,” which was the greatest worry of 23 percent of all respondents and 29 percent of Republicans.
Still, despite the lack of strong bipartisan support for any of the debt-reduction proposals tested in the poll, Americans wanted Congress to reach a deal.
Fifty-three percent of respondents said they would like to see their member of Congress vote for a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit, even if it doesn’t fully reflect their priorities, if it was the only way Congress could reach an agreement. Thirty-one percent said they wanted their member to vote for a deal only if it fully reflected their priorities for taxes and spending.
Americans’ desire for compromise on a debt-reduction package was bipartisan: 55 percent of Democrats, 54 percent of Republicans, and 53 percent of independents wanted their member to vote for a deal, even if it didn’t fully reflect their priorities.
The devil, however, was in the details.
This article appears in the Nov. 23, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.