CONGRESS

Voters Favor Balance in Cutting Deficit

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)
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Matthew Cooper
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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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