CONGRESS

Poll: Don’t Extend Bush Cuts for Wealthy

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney smiles during a campaign stop at Mapleside Farms on Sunday, June 17, 2012 in Brunswick, Ohio. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)  
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
June 18, 2012, 5:59 p.m.

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this story gave the in­cor­rect per­cent of the pub­lic that wants tax breaks across all in­come levels made per­man­ent. Eight­een per­cent polled sup­port the po­s­i­tion taken by Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Mitt Rom­ney.

As Pres­id­ent Obama nav­ig­ates a choppy eco­nomy in his reelec­tion bid, he can rely on one com­fort­ing fact: Amer­ic­ans con­tin­ue to strongly em­brace his op­pos­i­tion to ex­tend­ing tax breaks for those earn­ing more than $250,000 a year.

A new United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll shows that only 26 per­cent of the pub­lic wants to see all of the tax breaks cre­ated dur­ing the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, which are set to ex­pire at year’s end, ex­ten­ded for at least an­oth­er year. And only 18 per­cent want the tax breaks across all in­come levels made per­man­ent, the po­s­i­tion taken by Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Mitt Rom­ney.

(Re­lated: Which House Fresh­men Might Make a Deal?)

That the broad­er pub­lic prefers tax­ing the rich to tax­ing them­selves is not sur­pris­ing. But the poll res­ults of­fer evid­ence of the polit­ic­al be­ne­fits that the pres­id­ent can de­rive from his op­pos­i­tion to the Bush-era tax breaks for high-in­come earners. Obama has made this a center­piece of his cam­paign. It also shows the dif­fi­culties that the GOP faces try­ing to con­vince voters that the $250,000 threshold hits small busi­nesses and would hurt the eco­nomy, and why that nar­rat­ive has gained little trac­tion with the pub­lic at large.

In the poll, 47 per­cent of re­spond­ents said they wanted to see the tax breaks ex­ten­ded only for those earn­ing less than $250,000. Eight­een per­cent said they prefer that all the tax breaks simply ex­pire, which would res­ult in high­er taxes across the in­come spec­trum.

The ques­tion of how to handle the ex­pir­a­tion of the Bush tax cuts, of course, will be settled not on the cam­paign trail but in Con­gress. No ac­tion is ex­pec­ted un­til after the fall elec­tions, when the lame-duck Con­gress will have to tackle not only the Bush tax cuts, but auto­mat­ic cut­backs to de­fense spend­ing, an ex­pir­ing payroll-tax break, the rising es­tate tax, and a po­ten­tial debt-ceil­ing in­crease. Col­lect­ively, that loom­ing fisc­al fight has be­come known as “Taxmaggedon.”

Re­pub­lic­ans have ar­gued that rais­ing taxes amid an eco­nom­ic down­turn could plunge the coun­try back in­to re­ces­sion. And Demo­crats have not stayed united in op­pos­i­tion, as former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton made waves this month when he sug­ges­ted in a tele­vised in­ter­view that law­makers should “avoid any­thing that would con­tract the eco­nomy now.” He later is­sued a cla­ri­fy­ing state­ment say­ing he sup­por­ted Obama’s po­s­i­tion.

“Even Bill Clin­ton came out for it, be­fore he was against it,” House Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.

The op­pos­i­tion to ex­tend­ing the Bush-era tax breaks for those earn­ing above $250,000 spanned across every eth­nic and age group in the poll, with young voters most op­posed. Opin­ion did dif­fer among vari­ous in­come groups. Only 21 per­cent of those who earn less than $30,000 a year want the tax breaks for all earners ex­ten­ded; 28 per­cent of those earn­ing between $30,000 and $75,000 want them ex­ten­ded; and 31 per­cent among those earn­ing at least $75,000 fa­vor the across-the-board ex­ten­sion.

With less than five months un­til the Novem­ber elec­tions, the sur­vey shows how both Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans have tried to stake out pop­u­lar po­s­i­tions on fisc­al is­sues not just among their re­spect­ive bases, but also among the crit­ic­al in­de­pend­ent swing voters that de­term­ine elec­tions.

For Obama, that means talk­ing about the Bush tax cuts. For Re­pub­lic­ans, it’s push­ing small-busi­ness tax breaks, rather than more spend­ing on things like high­ways and in­fra­struc­ture, to pump up the slump­ing eco­nomy.

It’s no ac­ci­dent that House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, R-Va., pushed through le­gis­la­tion this year that prom­ised busi­ness-tax breaks to spur hir­ing. Obama em­braced Can­tor’s Jobs Act, des­pite an­ger­ing some in his own party, and the pair made a rare joint ap­pear­ance for a Rose Garden sign­ing ce­re­mony.

When asked what Con­gress could do to help the eco­nomy and cre­ate jobs, the top an­swer picked by poll re­spond­ents (37 per­cent of them) was “passing tax cuts for small busi­nesses to en­cour­age them to hire more work­ers.”

Re­pub­lic­ans par­tic­u­larly em­braced that ap­proach (52 per­cent), but it was also the most pop­u­lar op­tion se­lec­ted among both Demo­crat­ic voters (35 per­cent) and in­de­pend­ents (32 per­cent).

Busi­ness-tax breaks eas­ily out­polled ad­ded taxes on im­por­ted goods (24 per­cent), us­ing a trans­port­a­tion bill to pro­mote road-build­ing (20 per­cent), and ad­ded sub­sidies to pro­mote the use of clean en­ergy (11 per­cent). Clearly, three years after the stim­u­lus pack­age, the pub­lic still ap­pears to doubt the abil­ity of gov­ern­ment in­vest­ments to help the eco­nomy.

The strong show­ing for new taxes on for­eign products, mean­while, was only one ex­ample of a pro­tec­tion­ist streak cours­ing through the elect­or­ate, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey. A ma­jor­ity, 52 per­cent, also said that “eco­nom­ic com­pet­i­tion from for­eign coun­tries selling their goods here” has con­trib­uted “a lot” to sup­press­ing U.S. fam­ily in­comes.

There was no party split on that ques­tion: A ma­jor­ity of Demo­crats, Re­pub­lic­ans, and in­de­pend­ents agreed that goods pro­duced abroad were de­press­ing in­comes here. That was the highest fig­ure of the four choices presen­ted in the poll. The next most pop­u­lar, check­ing in at 47 per­cent, was that gov­ern­ment policies “give too many tax breaks to the wealthy,” fol­lowed by 46 per­cent who blamed “gov­ern­ment spend­ing and reg­u­la­tion.”

Fin­ish­ing a dis­tant fourth, with only 25 per­cent of re­spond­ents say­ing it had “a lot” of im­pact on sup­press­ing fam­ily in­comes, was “the de­cline in labor-uni­on mem­ber­ship.”

The United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll was con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, which sur­veyed 1,002 adults by land­line and cell phone on June 14-17. The sur­vey has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.6 per­cent­age points. The mar­gin of er­ror is high­er for sub­groups.

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