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.
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For Durbin and for conservative Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, "yes" votes were about the big picture – a commitment that the debt problem needs Congress's full attention – not about endorsing every element of the commission blueprint. (To many Republicans, it involves too much in the way of tax revenue. To many Democrats, the plan squeezes spending programs too hard.)Skip to next paragraph
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The USA Today/Gallup poll suggested that many Americans see things in a similar way. Not only are they very worried about deficits, they see tough choices and sacrifices as the solution. Asked what to do about rising Social Security and Medicare costs, 46 percent called for a combination of tax hikes and benefit cuts, 30 percent said to increase taxes only, and 19 percent said just to cut benefits.
Murky poll results
Public attitudes are complex and often ambivalent, however, varying from poll to poll and sometimes within the same poll. Where government stimulus spending was a low priority in the USA Today/Gallup poll, a survey by the Pew Research Center, also in November, found a large minority of the public – 43 percent – supporting "spending more to help the economy recover."
And, when forced in a CBS News poll to pick a top priority for the nation, the clear leader, with 56 percent support, was "economy and jobs," a choice that seems to imply support for stimulus spending. Only 4 percent of respondents to that poll picked "Budget deficit/National debt" as the top national priority.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll, which allowed multiple responses, may help clarify the mood of the public, which wants both remedies: 72 percent see "jobs" as a crucial item for Congress to focus on this year, and 57 percent see the "budget deficit" as a crucial priority, putting it second of seven options in that survey question.
Do Americans want to see Congress forge a bipartisan compromise?
Again, the polls show some mixed feelings. In a Pew Research Center poll in November, 42 percent of Americans said they most admire political leaders who "compromise," while 45 percent said they most admire leaders who "stick to their positions."
All this suggests that, when it comes to addressing America's fiscal challenges, there are vital roles to be played by both the public and politicians. Voters, as always, will send signals to Washington. But leadership by polticians can also play a crucial role in steering the national debate.
"Only you ... can right this listing ship," fiscal commission co-chair Alan Simpson (R) told the panel members who hold seats in Congress. He said it's up to elected lawmakers, guided by "principles and patriotism," to navigate beyond special-interest lobbying and head off the risk of a fiscal crisis.
Polls can show a fickle public, with voters saying they want a problem fixed as long as they don't have to pay for it. But in one AP/CNBC poll last month, Americans also showed what Bowles and Simpson would call a dose of realism. Some 79 percent said some services would have to be cut in order to balance the federal budget, and 65 percent said some taxes will have to be increased to reach that goal.