Bipartisan budget glass is (almost) half full

When it comes to cutting the deficit, people don't want to make a sacrifice unless they think that their political rivals will have to make sacrifices, too

Photo illustration/Markus Redman/Newscom
A glass of water sits on a table in front of a window. Americans may be receptive to bipartisan plans to cut the deficit, which can be seen as glass that's nearly half full, writes guest blogger Diane Lim Rogers.

Contrary to a typo in an NPR transcript earlier this week, I do not work for the “Conquered Coalition.” (LOL. It’s been corrected since.) We at the Concord Coalition, like many “deficit hawks” who are really more appropriately considered “deficit pandas” (a la Ruth Marcus–I love it!), haven’t given up on fiscal responsibility just yet.

Take the recently-reported Washington Post-ABC News poll that’s been characterized (in a Washington Post print headline) as showing “little backing for debt remedies.” Stories about this poll have tended to emphasize the majority who are opposed to each item in a “pick one” menu of tough choices: 78 percent opposed to cutting Medicare, 69 percent opposed to cutting Medicaid, 56 percent opposed to cutting defense spending. The only “pick one” option that a majority (72 percent) supported: “raising taxes on incomes over $250,000.” And even that is not as agreeable as it sounds, considering that households with incomes over $250,000 make up only about 2 percent of the population–i.e., you’d think we could get a little closer to 98 percent support on that one.

But that majority opposition to each of the “tough choices” is because respondents were asked to take or leave each of those tough choices as the single strategy for deficit reduction. No one wants to agree to give up something if they think others in society aren’t going to give up something, too. None of those “pick one” choices conveyed a notion of shared sacrifice or a “balanced” approach.

It’s the response to the poll question below–which does start to get at the possibility of compromise for the common good–that deserves more of our attention:

18. Say the national debt could be reduced significantly by raising taxes on all Americans by a small percentage and making small reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits. Is this something you would support or oppose? Do you support/oppose this strongly or somewhat?


Net: 45

Strongly: 19

Somewhat: 26


Net: 53

Somewhat: 13

Strongly: 40

No Opinion: 2

Only slightly over 50 percent oppose this more balanced approach which combines (”small”) cuts in the major entitlement programs with “raising taxes on all Americans.” This is a glass that is (almost) half full. We haven’t even begun to make the full sales pitch on this “shared sacrifice” plan with more specifics about how Medicare and Social Security can be trimmed while actually strengthening the safety-net parts of those programs (reassuring the liberals), or how revenues can be raised in a progressive manner by reducing “tax entitlements” rather than merely jacking up tax rates (reassuring the conservatives).

This gives me hope.

The same poll shows that a majority of Americans (59 percent) already agree that the best way to reduce the deficit is through the only-generally-described “combination” of tax increases and spending cuts–not just one or the other. They’re just not going to agree to a particular example of that more balanced approach without learning more about the details of the proposals and considering how those specific proposals would affect their own families and would mesh with their views of the appropriate roles of government.

This really seems quite doable. We just need to keep talking–and listening. It’s a conversation we’ve only just begun, but recently it seems to me (”glass half full” person that I am) that we’re starting to grow up about it.

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