CONGRESS

Public Doubts Congress Will Aid Economy

A couple of traffic lights shine red outside the Capitol Building as a Government shutdown looms. 
Chet Susslin
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Steven Shepard
Nov. 7, 2011, 5:07 p.m.

With time tick­ing down on the first ses­sion of the 112th Con­gress, Amer­ic­ans gen­er­ally prefer that Con­gress act on pri­or­it­ies sup­por­ted by Demo­crat­ic mem­bers and the White House, but they are very pess­im­ist­ic about any of these ini­ti­at­ives ac­tu­ally be­ing real­ized be­fore the end of the year, ac­cord­ing to the latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll.

The pub­lic’s low ex­pect­a­tions for Con­gress com­bined with what a large num­ber of sur­veys show is a sour na­tion­al mood — dis­sat­is­fied with the eco­nomy and even more so with polit­ic­al lead­ers — don’t show signs of abat­ing, but there are ideas that curry fa­vor with the pub­lic.

The sur­vey tested five dif­fer­ent policy pro­pos­als re­lated to Amer­ic­ans’ eco­nom­ic and fisc­al situ­ation, ask­ing re­spond­ents how im­port­ant it was that Con­gress come to an agree­ment on each. Amer­ic­ans dis­agree on what is most im­port­ant for Con­gress for the rest of the year, but they are uni­fied in be­liev­ing that Con­gress will not be able to agree on any­thing, re­flect­ing a grow­ing be­lief that Con­gress is in­cap­able of act­ing on na­tion­al pri­or­it­ies.

Sixty-eight per­cent of Amer­ic­ans said it was “very im­port­ant” that Con­gress agree to new fed­er­al spend­ing to try to cre­ate jobs — spe­cific­ally, re­hab­il­it­at­ing pub­lic schools, im­prov­ing roads and pub­lic trans­it, and pre­vent­ing lay­offs of “teach­ers, po­lice of­ficers and oth­er first re­spon­ders,” ac­cord­ing to the poll. Just 13 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans said it was “not too im­port­ant” or “not at all im­port­ant” that Con­gress reach agree­ment on that kind of spend­ing.

The in­clu­sion of “po­lice of­ficers” and “first re­spon­ders” in the ques­tion is likely to eli­cit sup­port from the poll’s re­spond­ents, com­pared to a ques­tion that asked only about pre­vent­ing lay­offs of “pub­lic em­ploy­ees,” for in­stance. But the word­ing of the ques­tion also tests a main Demo­crat­ic ar­gu­ment for Pres­id­ent Obama’s jobs le­gis­la­tion, and the poll shows that ar­gu­ment could be a per­suas­ive one. In­deed, throughout the fall, the sur­vey has found, to vary­ing de­grees, large pub­lic sup­port for the pres­id­ent’s policy ideas.

The pro­pos­al that ranked second-highest, ac­cord­ing to the poll, is also a prom­in­ent Demo­crat­ic pri­or­ity. Fifty-eight per­cent said it was “very im­port­ant” for Con­gress to agree to new le­gis­la­tion to re­duce the fed­er­al budget de­fi­cit through a com­bin­a­tion of spend­ing cuts and tax in­creases on wealthy Amer­ic­ans, an im­port­ant as­pect of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to pay for its jobs ini­ti­at­ives.

Rank­ing third is le­gis­la­tion “to make it easi­er for homeown­ers to re­fin­ance their mort­gages at lower rates,” with 56 per­cent of re­spond­ents say­ing that is “very im­port­ant.”

A Re­pub­lic­an-backed pro­pos­al for re­du­cing the de­fi­cit — fo­cus­ing solely on spend­ing cuts, in­clud­ing cuts to en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams such as Medi­care and Medi­caid — is less pop­u­lar. Just 40 per­cent said it was “very im­port­ant” Con­gress acts on that pro­pos­al, while 34 per­cent said it was “not too im­port­ant” or “not at all im­port­ant.”

Fi­nally, just 35 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans say it is very im­port­ant for Con­gress to try to cre­ate jobs by cut­ting So­cial Se­cur­ity taxes for work­ers and em­ploy­ees, though 30 per­cent say that is “some­what im­port­ant.”

The Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll was con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al on Nov. 3-6, sur­vey­ing 1,005 adults. The poll has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.7 per­cent­age points and in­cluded live tele­phone in­ter­views con­duc­ted via land­line and cell phones. It is the latest in a series of na­tion­al sur­veys that will track the pub­lic’s pri­or­it­ies for Con­gress — and its as­sess­ment of Wash­ing­ton’s per­form­ance — dur­ing most weeks that Con­gress is in ses­sion through 2012.

Re­spond­ents who said that it was “very im­port­ant” for Con­gress to en­act more than one of the pro­pos­als were then asked to choose the most im­port­ant. When res­ults of the two ques­tions are com­bined, 36 per­cent choose new fed­er­al spend­ing to cre­ate jobs as most im­port­ant, fol­lowed by 21 per­cent who choose cut­ting the de­fi­cit by cut­ting spend­ing and in­creas­ing taxes on high-in­come fam­il­ies. Just 12 per­cent be­lieve cut­ting the de­fi­cit solely through spend­ing cuts is most im­port­ant.

Among in­de­pend­ents, 33 per­cent said fed­er­al spend­ing to cre­ate jobs was most im­port­ant, while 23 per­cent chose clos­ing the fed­er­al budget de­fi­cit with a com­bin­a­tion of spend­ing cuts and tax in­creases for the wealthy. Just 10 per­cent said the most im­port­ant thing for Con­gress was to cut spend­ing solely by cut­ting fed­er­al pro­grams such as en­ti­tle­ments.

But Amer­ic­ans are pess­im­ist­ic about their gov­ern­ment these days — an ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll re­leased on Sunday showed that only 20 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans were sat­is­fied with how the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment works — and the new Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll re­flects that. Asked how likely it was that Con­gress would ac­com­plish each of the five pro­pos­als tested in the poll, ma­jor­it­ies say it is either “not too likely” or “not at all likely” that Con­gress acts on any of them.

In fact, the pro­pos­al that more Amer­ic­ans think is most im­port­ant — fed­er­al spend­ing to cre­ate jobs — is the ini­ti­at­ive they give the smal­lest chance of suc­ceed­ing in Con­gress by year’s end. Only 8 per­cent think it’s “very likely” Con­gress acts to spend money to cre­ate jobs, while 19 per­cent say it’s “some­what likely,” 35 per­cent say it’s “not too likely,” and 35 per­cent be­lieve it’s “not at all likely.” Forty per­cent of in­de­pend­ents think Con­gress is not at all likely to agree on a spend­ing pack­age to try to cre­ate jobs.

The pro­pos­al deemed most likely to suc­ceed is le­gis­la­tion aimed at mak­ing it easi­er for homeown­ers to re­fin­ance their mort­gages at lower rates, but the ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans are pess­im­ist­ic about even that suc­ceed­ing: Just 12 per­cent say Con­gress is very likely to pass such le­gis­la­tion by the end of the year.

On the oth­er three items — cuts to So­cial Se­cur­ity taxes and the two com­pet­ing debt-re­duc­tion plans — the per­cent­ages of re­spond­ents who think it is un­likely that each passes Con­gress is great­er than 60 per­cent.

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