Public Split on Supercommittee's Competing Plans

Democrats and Republicans have offered up different solutions for lowering the deficit, and National Journal's latest poll shows opinions divided

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With the supercommittee scheduled to report its findings to Congress in just two weeks, a new survey finds that slightly more Americans favor a Democratic proposal to pare the deficit with cuts and revenue increases on the wealthy rather than a cuts-only approach.

By a margin of 49 percent to 44 percent, the public favored the Democratic plan suggested earlier this month that would include "$4 trillion in deficit reduction through a combination of federal spending cuts and tax increases on wealthier Americans" over "a Republican plan that calls for $3 trillion in deficit reduction through spending cuts alone, with no tax increases." A small number of voters--7 percent--said neither one, said they didn't know, or refused to answer.

With the supercommittee appearing deadlocked over how to get to $1.2 trillion in cuts--lest automatic sequestration go into effect in 2013--the American people seem no more unified than the politicians who represent them. However, when individual ideas are tested with the public, and not identified as being the progeny of any political party, the Democratic-proposed solutions score very well. That suggests that the party's congressional strategy of holding a slew of Senate votes on pieces of the president's jobs package--which went down to defeat earlier this fall--may be a wise idea even though it has yet to produce lasting gains in President Obama's job approval, let alone Congress's.

Respondents to the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll showed a decided lack of confidence in Congress to get anything done that might aid the still-troubled American economy. When asked about federal legislation to create jobs through funding repair of infrastructure and keeping police from being laid off, more than 80 percent said that those measures were very important or somewhat important for Congress to pass this year, but only 8 percent thought it would happen--a stunning discrepancy that reveals faith in Congress at historic lows.

One thing that did unite the public was overwhelming opposition to the idea that the United States should help Greece during its economic crisis--even if a Greek default would "hurt the global economy--including the United States."

The question posed to recipients was whether the "U.S. should or should not provide any financial assistance to European nations and financial institutions which have already offered Greece aid if it undertakes reforms to repair its fiscal problems."

Fully 71 percent said that the U.S. should not provide such aid; 21 percent said it should. A sliver of respondents, 8 percent, said they didn't know or refused to answer. The numbers aren't shocking, given the longtime public antipathy toward foreign aid and the U.S.'s own financial woes, but they provide a warning to Congress and to policymakers across the Atlantic in the event that Italy, a nation of great concern to European central bankers, finds itself on the brink of default.

The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on Nov. 3-6, surveying 1,005 adults. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points and included live telephone interviews conducted via landline and cell phones. It is the latest in a series of national surveys that will track the public's priorities for Congress--and its assessment of Washington's performance--during most weeks that Congress is in session through 2012.

The supercommittee question reveals a partisan divide. While 79 percent of Republicans favored the Republican cuts-only plan, 82 percent of Democrats favored the Democratic plan. Independents were, as one might expect, more evenly split, with 47 percent favoring the Republican plan and 45 percent the Democratic plan.

Republicans continue to make inroads with white voters without a college education. A full 50-percent of these lower earners favored the Republican plan even though Democrats have repeatedly said that it places an undue burden on the middle class and the poor while asking too little from wealthier Americans. Those earning more than $75,000 annually favored the Democratic plan. For white working-class voters, it may be that just the word "Democratic" casts a pall over policies.

The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found support for a number of Democratic ideas that have been floating around Congress; most notably, 84 percent of voters said that it was very important or somewhat important for Congress to reach agreement by the end of this year on "new federal spending to create jobs by rehabilitating public schools and mass transit, and preventing layoffs of teachers, police, and other first responders." Likewise, 82 percent said it was very or somewhat important this year for Congress to produce "new legislation to reduce the federal deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases on high-income families." Only 60 percent said it was very or somewhat important to craft "new legislation to reduce the federal deficit solely by cutting spending on federal programs, including entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid."

Some subgroups are off the charts when it comes to the Democratic proposals. For instance, 92 percent of women 18-49 say it's very or somewhat important to pass "create-jobs" legislation. Even that difficult group for Democrats and the president, white noncollege men, wants Congress to get that done this year. Some 80 percent say that it is important or very important to them.

Image credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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