CONGRESS

Voters Favor Balance in Cutting Deficit

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US President Barack Obama arrives to speak in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on September 19, 2011. Obama called for new deficit cuts of $3.0 trillion but warned Republicans he will veto any bill that trims healthcare for the elderly without hiking taxes on the rich. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images
Matthew Cooper
Sept. 19, 2011, 5:23 p.m.

As Pres­id­ent Obama chal­lenged con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans with his new de­fi­cit plan on Monday, voters are re­ject­ing the idea of re­du­cing the na­tion’s debt through spend­ing cuts alone — but there is no clear-cut en­thu­si­asm for any spe­cif­ic pro­pos­al offered by either polit­ic­al party and even less con­fid­ence in their abil­ity to get things done.

When asked if the con­gres­sion­al su­per com­mit­tee that is charged with re­com­mend­ing at least $1.2 tril­lion in re­duc­tions from the de­fi­cit should rely “en­tirely on spend­ing cuts without any tax in­creases,” only 28 per­cent of voters said yes, ac­cord­ing to the new United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll. The cuts-only po­s­i­tion is ba­sic­ally the one offered by the Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship in Con­gress and by the can­did­ates seek­ing the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion.

Con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats and Pres­id­ent Obama have offered what they call a “bal­anced ap­proach” of tax hikes and spend­ing cuts to re­duce the fed­er­al de­fi­cit, and voters over­whelm­ingly favored such an ap­proach, al­beit to vary­ing de­grees. When he un­veiled his de­fi­cit-re­duc­tion plan on Monday, the pres­id­ent in­sisted that tax hikes be a part of any de­fi­cit solu­tion. That would seem to be in sync with voters. “Re­ly­ing about three-fourths on spend­ing cuts and one-fourth on tax in­creases” was the choice of 20 per­cent of re­spond­ents.

“Re­ly­ing about equally on spend­ing cuts and tax in­creases” was slightly more pop­u­lar, with 26 per­cent of re­spond­ents sup­port­ing that ap­proach. A much smal­ler num­ber of voters — 16 per­cent — favored “re­ly­ing mostly on tax in­creases with smal­ler spend­ing cuts.”

But over­all, voters showed slightly more con­fid­ence in Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress to “make the right de­cisions about how to re­duce the fed­er­al de­fi­cit.” By 38 per­cent to 36 per­cent, voters said they trus­ted Re­pub­lic­ans more than Pres­id­ent Obama to make the right de­cisions about the eco­nomy. That’s with­in the sur­vey’s mar­gin of er­ror.

 The poll showed a sig­ni­fic­ant de­cline in trust in Pres­id­ent Obama’s abil­ity to make the right de­cisions about re­du­cing the de­fi­cit. Back in Ju­ly, the poll found 46 per­cent of voters trus­ted the pres­id­ent to make the right de­cisions about how to re­duce the fed­er­al de­fi­cit, while 34 per­cent trus­ted Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress more.

The poll, con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, in­ter­viewed 1,006 adults by land­line and cell phone from Sept. 15 to Sept. 18 for most of the ques­tions in the sur­vey; those ques­tions have a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.6 per­cent­age points.

When it comes to bi­par­tis­an­ship, the poll found that the pub­lic has little faith in the abil­ity of the su­per com­mit­tee — com­posed of six Demo­crats and six Re­pub­lic­ans — to meet its de­fi­cit-re­duc­tion goal. A min­is­cule num­ber of voters — only 4 per­cent — said they were “very con­fid­ent” that the com­mit­tee could agree on a plan to reach its de­fi­cit tar­get and 21 per­cent were some­what con­fid­ent. By con­trast, equal num­bers of voters — 36 per­cent — were “not too con­fid­ent” and “not at all con­fid­ent” that the com­mit­tee could reach agree­ment. So while the pub­lic fa­vors a bal­anced ap­proach to de­fi­cit re­duc­tion, it seems to have little faith in Con­gress’s primary vehicle — the su­per com­mit­tee — for re­du­cing the de­fi­cit.

Voters are less uni­fied when it comes to spe­cif­ic op­tions for re­du­cing the fed­er­al de­fi­cit. Con­sider the pro­pos­als that Pres­id­ent Obama and Demo­crats have put for­ward. Forty-nine per­cent of the poll re­spond­ents strongly or some­what sup­por­ted elim­in­at­ing the Bush-era tax cuts for fam­il­ies earn­ing more than $250,000 per year; 44 per­cent strongly or some­what op­posed those cuts. In­creas­ing the amount of taxes that private-equity, hedge-fund, and oth­er in­vest­ment firms pay on the profits they earn from man­aging oth­er people’s port­fo­li­os was more pop­u­lar: 56 per­cent of voters strongly or some­what sup­por­ted that pro­pos­al. Rais­ing Medi­care eli­gib­il­ity was the least pop­u­lar idea: Only 36 per­cent of voters some­what or strongly favored rais­ing the age from 65 to 67.

The de­fi­cit-re­duc­tion pro­pos­als be­ing put for­ward by con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans aren’t com­mand­ing over­whelm­ing sup­port, either. The no­tion of con­vert­ing Medi­care in­to a pro­gram that provides seni­ors with a fixed sum of money to buy private in­sur­ance was strongly or some­what op­posed by half of voters sur­veyed and strongly or some­what sup­por­ted by 42 per­cent. Filling only half of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s va­cant jobs and re­du­cing wages and be­ne­fits paid to fed­er­al work­ers is a GOP idea that re­ceived the back­ing of half the voters, while 45 per­cent op­posed it. Re­sponses to the ques­tion of wheth­er the pres­id­ent’s health care law should be re­pealed were sim­il­arly in­con­clus­ive: 46 per­cent strongly or some­what favored the law’s re­peal, while 47 per­cent strongly or some­what op­posed its re­peal.

Neither polit­ic­al party can take com­fort in a land­scape where voters have low con­fid­ence in Con­gress to per­form and have not found a de­fi­cit-cut­ting plan they can em­brace. With just over two months to go be­fore the su­per com­mit­tee is re­quired to sub­mit its con­clu­sions to Con­gress, each party faces chal­lenges ral­ly­ing the en­thu­si­asm of a doubt­ful elect­or­ate.

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