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Obama on debt ceiling: Is he winning over Americans?

An increasing number of Americans are concerned about the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling, according to a new poll. President Obama has been blunt about the consequences of default.

By Staff writer / July 12, 2011

President Obama met with Speaker of the House John Boehner (c.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi during a meeting with Congressional leaders on budget talks in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, on July 11.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Newscom

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Washington

President Obama’s use of the bully pulpit to warn Americans about the consequences of defaulting on US government debt may be having an impact.

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A new Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll shows that the percentage of Americans concerned about the consequences of not raising the debt limit has gone up since May. The figure for those more concerned that increasing the debt limit will lead to more spending and bigger debt has held steady.

The latter group is still larger – 47 percent – versus 42 percent who are more concerned about default, according to the poll taken July 7-10. But the percentage of those more concerned about default has risen seven percentage points from the last poll, taken May 19-22.

Among independent voters, the numbers are also encouraging for Mr. Obama’s position. In May, 34 percent were more concerned about default than about the potential consequences of raising the debt ceiling. In July, that number is up 11 points to 45 percent. Obama won a majority of independents in 2008, and he’s fighting to win them back in time for the 2012 election.

At his press conference Monday, Obama sought to portray himself as a pragmatist and a centrist – a posture that seemed aimed at independent voters who reject Washington’s high partisanship.

“If, in fact, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are sincere – and I believe they are – that they don't want to see the US government default, then they're going to have to compromise just like Democrats are going to have to compromise, just like I have shown myself willing to compromise,” Obama said, referring to the Senate minority leader and House speaker.

In reality, a short-term deal can be reached just with spending cuts. But Obama was adamant about continuing to work toward a larger deal that would include entitlement spending and revenue increases. Whether he can wring any tax concessions out of the Republicans remains highly questionable.

Obama’s Monday press conference took place after the Pew poll was completed, but in his press conference on June 29, the president was blunt about the consequences of default. They will be “significant and unpredictable,” he said.

“We don’t know how capital markets will react,” Obama said. “But if capital markets suddenly decide, you know what, the US government doesn’t pay its bills, so we’re going to start pulling our money out, and the US Treasury has to start to raise interest rates in order to attract more money to pay off our bills, that means higher interest rates for businesses, that means higher interest rates for consumers.”

Bottom line: The head winds facing the economic recovery will get worse, he said.

The Pew poll also showed that the intensity of public concern about both added debt and potential default has increased since May. Some 51 percent now say they are “very concerned” about raising the debt limit, compared with 47 percent in May. The percentage of those “very concerned” about potential default is now 44, compared with 37 percent in May.

Most Americans are worried about both outcomes. Some 78 percent say they are at least somewhat concerned that raising the debt limit will mean higher spending, while 75 percent are at least somewhat concerned that failing to raise the debt ceiling will lead to default.

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