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If Americans had a vote, would they back deficit commission report?

Americans appear to back the intent of the bipartisan commission report – cutting the deficit – but it is less clear whether they approve of the panel's dramatic solutions.

By Staff writer / December 4, 2010

The Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform meets on Capitol Hill Friday.

Harry Hamburg/AP


The deficit commission has spoken. What do the people think?

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Judging by recent opinion polls, the American public is deeply concerned about rising federal debt and its implications for the nation's future prosperity.

But it's harder to tell if US voters would vote to move forward with a plan that reduces the federal deficit by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade, a plan backed Friday by 11 members of President Obama's fiscal commission. After all, those panel members had to weigh the costs and benefits of a complex fiscal plan – and boil it all down to a yes or no decision.

That's very different from the typical poll question.

Deficit commission plan: Four points of contention – and agreement

The conventional wisdom is that the kind of tough decisions that might help fix the deficit – tax hikes or spending cuts in popular programs like Medicare – are toxic choices that could cost politicians their jobs. Opinion polls bear out that risk, but they also at least hint at another political peril, the risk of inaction on debt and deficits.

Consider a USA Today/Gallup poll taken in November, about two weeks after an election in which deficit-bashing tea party voters helped propel Republicans into control of the US House of Representatives.

The poll found that taking steps "reducing the federal budget deficit and national debt" ranked at the top of a handful of possible priorities for the economy, beating out "cutting taxes" or "increasing government stimulus spending." On another question, some 3 in 4 Americans agreed that the rising costs of Medicare and Social Security "will create major economic problems for the US in the next 25 years if no changes are made to them."

Political price of inaction

Members of the bipartisan deficit commission, appointed by Obama and by leaders of both parties in Congress, echoed the notion that inaction could carry a political price as they met this week to agree on a proposed fiscal reform package.

Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chair, said that as the commission considered difficult moves – including raising federal tax revenue and spending cuts that extend even to cherished entitlements – he has been getting far more favorable feedback than criticism from the public.

"Don't wimp out," he said, is the message he hears most frequently from US citizens.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois described hearing both outrage and praise in response to his decision to support the commission's plan. In a commission meeting Friday, he recounted a flurry of criticism from people inside the Washington Beltway, worried that he was selling out Democrats' progressive ideals. But he also told of a simple email message that arrived from his son: "Thank you."


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