Budget stalemate: Why America won't raise taxes
Budget stalemate has many on Capitol Hill crunching numbers. With any new budget, taxes may be the real third rail of politics. Can the U.S. solve its fiscal woes without more revenue?
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In fact, there are some indications the public at large may be softening in overall attitudes toward taxes. Since the end of World War II, Gallup has asked Americans every year whether the amount they pay in federal taxes is too much, about right, or too little. Consistently, the top answer has been "too much" – until recently, when pluralities began saying their taxes were "about right."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Why America won't raise taxes
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The shift hasn't been consistent over the past three or four years, "but it's there – you see it," says Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion expert at the American Enterprise Institute. It could simply reflect that more Americans were removed from the tax rolls altogether during the recession – and thus don't have any argument with rates. Or it could reflect a genuine sense among many Americans that their taxes are not, in fact, too high.
Even among those voters who are most unhappy with federal taxes, when asked whether it's the amount they're paying that they object to or how the money is being spent, "it's how the money's being used" that troubles most, says Ms. Bowman.
David Kirk, for one, would be willing to pay more in taxes if he felt the government would use it wisely. To Mr. Kirk, the service manager for a forklift company in Burlington, Vt., that would mean putting more of it toward reducing the deficit rather than what he considers wasting it. Otherwise, he wants the government to keep its hand out of his pockets.
Others feel the same way about state government. Dave Matherne, a salesman in Alabama for Cintas, a uniform and apparel supply company, won't be getting any taxes back from the state this year. He'll have to pay in, which angers him.
"I don't feel like we get back enough for what we pay into federal, but I'm OK with that," he says. "But the state is just ridiculous. You always hear them talking about how much they give to education, but you look around and it seems like schools don't get enough."
Many Americans, of course, want it all: They tell pollsters that they would prefer not to raise taxes or cut spending – and yet they also want Congress to address the deficit. It's one problem with polling on tax attitudes: Questions are typically asked in isolation, and thus people often give contradictory answers.
But, according to Steven Kull, director of the Center on Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, when voters are presented with more detailed information – and given the opportunity to make their own trade-offs – they're usually quite pragmatic.
Mr. Kull's group presented voters with a simplified but realistic version of what the budget might be in 2015 and then let them make their own tax and spending choices. They weren't told they had to balance the budget – whether to bring the deficit down or not was up to them. The result: On average, voters reduced the deficit by some $400 billion.