What do gradually raising the retirement age for Medicare and Social Security, reducing military defense spending, and limiting the home mortgage interest tax deduction have in common?
Polling released by the Pew Research Center last week compared the public’s support for different deficit reduction strategies and found that cutting funding for programs that help the poor is “particularly unpopular,” disapproved by the public by a margin of 58-38%.
The most popular deficit reduction options put the burden on those who are able to afford it, including raising the income tax on income over $250,000 (69-28% approve), limiting tax deductions, raising taxes on investment income, and reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits for higher income seniors.
These poll findings demonstrate strong public support for rejecting deficit reduction measures that increase poverty, hardship, and inequality. The Bowles-Simpson National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform expressly endorsed this principle in crafting its deficit reduction package, and every previous deficit reduction agreement has adhered to it.
The Pew polling found that an overwhelming majority (74%) agree that deficit reduction must be accomplished by a balance of tax increases and spending cuts, with only 7% saying the focus should be on mostly tax increases, and 11% saying the focus should be mostly on spending cuts.
The Pew polling also yielded a number of political findings – notably that President Obama’s job approval rating is up, that he is viewed as making a serious effort to work with Republicans, and that the Republican Congress and Speaker Boehner are viewed very unfavorably and will be blamed if a deficit reduction agreement is not reached.
Polling findings, however, do not equate with political outcomes. The budget written by Rep. Paul Ryan and passed by the full House of Representatives earlier this year would have cut taxes for the average millionaire by $265,000, paying for this largesse with massive spending cuts. Two-thirds of these spending cuts would have come from programs for low-income people like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) and Medicaid.
Hence, there is a very wide chasm between what the House Republicans want and what President Obama, joined by a strong majority of the American people, wants. This chasm must somehow be bridged if there is to be a deficit reduction agreement that avoids the fiscal cliff.