CONGRESS

Poll: Mixed Views on Health Care, Farm Bill

In this photo taken Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010, a sign announcing the acceptance of electronic Benefit Transfer cards is seen at a farmers market in Roseville, Calif. Currently food stamp recipients have had problems purchasing food at farmer's markets because many of them do not accept the EBT cards that food stamp recipients use to buy groceries. A bill currently in the legislature would change that by helping farmers markets overcome bureaucratic hurdles to obtain the equipment needed to read the benefit cards.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)  
National Journal
Matthew Cooper
June 4, 2012, 5:45 p.m.

If the Su­preme Court strikes down part or all of the Af­ford­able Care Act, a strong plur­al­ity of the pub­lic wants Con­gress to try again to come up with a com­pre­hens­ive health care law to guar­an­tee in­sur­ance for all Amer­ic­ans.

Forty-six per­cent of re­spond­ents in a new poll fa­vor that am­bi­tious ap­proach, while 18 per­cent say that Con­gress should be con­tent to “pass smal­ler meas­ures that will cov­er some people without in­sur­ance but not as many as the ori­gin­al law.” Mean­while, 28 per­cent of re­spond­ents said that Con­gress should simply do away with all of Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2010 law, in­clud­ing any parts the Su­preme Court may de­cide to up­hold.

The res­ults ap­pear in the latest edi­tion of the United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll.

The near ma­jor­ity — 46 per­cent — that favored try­ing to come up with an­oth­er law provid­ing health in­sur­ance to all Amer­ic­ans shows a pub­lic that still has an am­bi­tious agenda for Con­gress at the same time that it’s wary of parts of the Obama le­gis­la­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the poll, some 74 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans want the Su­preme Court to strike down the in­di­vidu­al man­date that’s at the heart of the Af­ford­able Care Act. Only 23 per­cent wanted the man­date up­held, and 3 per­cent didn’t know or re­fused to an­swer. Those res­ults are in keep­ing with oth­er pub­lic-opin­ion polls.

Some Su­preme Court justices were openly skep­tic­al of the man­date’s con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity dur­ing or­al ar­gu­ments earli­er this spring, and Con­gress could well find it­self this sum­mer fa­cing a gut­ted or over­turned health care law as well as a pub­lic that still is de­mand­ing pro­gress to­ward uni­ver­sal cov­er­age — all at a time when the de­fi­cit is swell­ing, Wash­ing­ton is po­lar­ized, and the pres­id­en­tial and con­gres­sion­al elec­tions are loom­ing.

The Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll, con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, sur­veyed 1,012 adults by land­line and cell phone from May 31 to June 3. It has a mar­gin of er­ror of +/- 3.7 per­cent­age points.

The poll is the latest in a series of na­tion­al sur­veys that track the pub­lic’s pri­or­it­ies for Con­gress — and its as­sess­ment of Wash­ing­ton’s per­form­ance — dur­ing most weeks that Con­gress is in ses­sion dur­ing this elec­tion year.

This edi­tion of the Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll also meas­ured pub­lic at­ti­tudes to­ward is­sues raised by the farm bill that Con­gress is con­sid­er­ing this year. The mam­moth, mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar meas­ure must be re­newed by this fall, and while the Sen­ate Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee passed a bi­par­tis­an meas­ure in April — a rare hope­ful sign of bon­homie in Con­gress — there are still any num­ber of is­sues hold­ing up an agree­ment, in­clud­ing price-sup­port and in­sur­ance pro­vi­sions that rice, pea­nut, and cot­ton grow­ers have vowed to fight. South­ern sen­at­ors on the Sen­ate Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee voted no when the bill came up for a vote at a markup last month.

Fund­ing for food stamps is also a di­vis­ive is­sue. The budget res­ol­u­tion that passed the House calls for pro­gram cuts that face over­whelm­ing Demo­crat­ic op­pos­i­tion; the more mod­est changes in the food-stamp pro­gram in the Sen­ate Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee bill earned a no vote from Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand of New York over the bill’s treat­ment of the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram, as the food-stamp pro­gram is form­ally known.

One poll ques­tion noted that en­roll­ment in SNAP has ris­en from 32 mil­lion when Pres­id­ent Obama took of­fice to 46 mil­lion today. Asked what caused the in­crease, 45 per­cent of re­spond­ents at­trib­uted the sharp rise to the re­ces­sion and slow re­cov­ery, while only 12 per­cent chalked it up to loose eli­gib­il­ity re­quire­ments or fraud. A siz­able slice of the pub­lic — 39 per­cent — saw the eco­nomy and fraud or loose eli­gib­il­ity as equal causes of the in­crease.

When asked if spend­ing on the food-stamp pro­gram should be in­creased as part of the farm bill, 20 per­cent re­spon­ded that it should be, 32 per­cent said it should be de­creased, and 42 per­cent said that spend­ing should be kept about the same — a pat­tern that would seem to sug­gest House Re­pub­lic­ans need to do more to sell the pub­lic on the idea of sub­stan­tial cuts in SNAP. Not sur­pris­ingly, the poll found Re­pub­lic­ans more likely to fa­vor cut­ting spend­ing on food stamps. Only 4 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans favored in­creas­ing spend­ing on food stamps, while 55 per­cent wanted to see it cut. Re­pub­lic­ans were three times more likely than Demo­crats (21 per­cent to 7 per­cent) to blame loose eli­gib­il­ity re­quire­ments and fraud as the cause of the in­crease in food-stamp rolls.

White men were par­tic­u­larly crit­ic­al of food-stamp spend­ing. A full 44 per­cent of white males with col­lege edu­ca­tions wanted food stamps cut; 41 per­cent of white men with some col­lege edu­ca­tion or less wanted the pro­gram cut. Each demo­graph­ic was more likely than the na­tion­al av­er­age to see fraud and loose stand­ards as the cause of the hike in the food-stamp rolls.

Des­pite the pres­sure on Con­gress to cut spend­ing, the poll found strong sup­port for either in­creas­ing or keep­ing spend­ing about the same for sub­sidies to farm­ers and ag­ribusi­nesses to help guar­an­tee that prices for their crops don’t fall too low. Thirty-nine per­cent of the pub­lic wanted the amount spent on such sub­sidies to go up, while 37 per­cent wanted it to stay the same. Only 19 per­cent wanted to see cuts, a sig­ni­fic­antly lower per­cent­age than the 32 per­cent who wanted to see food stamps cut. Five per­cent of the poll re­spond­ents didn’t know or re­fused to an­swer the ques­tion.

The pub­lic showed en­thu­si­asm for in­creas­ing the amount spent to pro­mote loc­al farm­ers’ mar­kets, road­side stands, and oth­er dir­ect sales from pro­du­cers to con­sumers. A near ma­jor­ity, 48 per­cent, wanted more money spent on this, while only 15 per­cent wanted such fund­ing cut. Thirty-two per­cent wanted it kept about the same. The bill that was voted out of the Sen­ate Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee in­cluded ex­pan­ded fund­ing to help farm­ers sell dir­ectly to con­sumers. A re­cent poll by the W.K. Kel­logg Found­a­tion found that 80 per­cent of the pub­lic says Wash­ing­ton should do more to in­crease ac­cess to loc­ally pro­duced food. Al­though the ques­tion was worded some­what dif­fer­ently than the one posed in the Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll, the res­ults sug­gest that these pro­grams may have a polit­ic­al con­stitu­ency wait­ing to be tapped.

Des­pite all the talk about Amer­ic­an com­pet­it­ive­ness over­seas, re­spond­ents showed no great en­thu­si­asm for spend­ing more “to pro­mote the sale of Amer­ic­an ag­ri­cul­tur­al products over­seas.” Only 32 per­cent of those sur­veyed thought that Wash­ing­ton should spend more to help U.S. farm ex­ports, while 35 per­cent wanted to spend about the same and 27 per­cent wanted to see such pro­grams cut.

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