Does Anyone Actually Care About the Deficit?

New poll finds just 4 percent of voters want it prioritized

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Just 4 percent of voters care about the deficit, according to a new CBS News poll, and want that issue prioritized above all others. Most people want Congress to tackle the economy and jobs. Will the tiny deficit-hating minority get its way? The Washington Post's Ezra Klein thinks not.

The press is paying attention to the Simpson-Bowles deficit-cutting proposal, but politicians aren't. "It's also why we're having a discussion about cutting taxes by somewhere between $3 trillion and $4 trillion without putting so much as a penny towards offsets," Klein writes. "And think Democrats' traction against the tax cuts for the rich represent deficit concerns? I don't. It's about class resentments, particularly the feeling middle-class folks have that the wealthy have gotten too much in recent years."

Sure, voters want to cut the deficit, but not at the expense of the programs they love.

  • Deficit Cutting Is Not Gonna Happen, Klein continues. "Here's Wonkbook's prediction: We've just had an election that many people will tell you was about the deficit. But over the next two years, Congress will pass legislation increasing the deficit by vastly more than it did in the last two years. Any takers?"
  • Voters Are Kinda Dumb, Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly. "Economic growth and job creation should be the focus, but Republicans, with their new House majority, have already made clear that their top priorities are fairly low priorities for the American mainstream -- gutting the health care system, protecting tax cuts for the wealthy, and reducing the deficit." If voters cared about the deficit, they'd hate tax cuts. And besides, Benen writes, "It's not altogether clear people even know what the deficit is. For many, it's likely that the deficit is just something that's 'bad.' Indeed, given that deficit concerns tend to coincide with economic downturns, some folks might see a correlation -- the deficit is high and the economy is bad, they figure, so maybe if the deficit were lower the economy might get better."
  • History Shows Cutting the Deficit Won't Help Obama, Steve Kornacki argues at Salon. Some claim that by embracing Simpson-Bowles, Obama will look moderate and responsible. But a lot of self-described independents actually consistently vote Republican, and they're unlikely to embrace Obama for cutting the deficit. The real independents will "only give Obama credit if the economy simultaneously improved." Reagan wasn't hurt by ballooning the deficit, and Clinton wasn't helped by it. Clinton only got credit years later, "and he only got that credit because the public, thanks to a booming economy, was in the mood to give him credit for just about anything."
  • Time to Cut the Military, Think Progress's Zaid Jilani writes. Donald Rumsfeld tweeted last week that entitlements should be cut first, not the defense budget. But, Jilani writes, "The position that Rumsfeld is advocating for — reducing spending on 'entitlements' like Medicare and Social Security while declaring military spending off-limits from waste trimming — is exactly the opposite of what polling shows the American people want." A recent poll showed Americans want "national security" spending to be cut before all else. "Rumsfeld is placing himself in opposition to a growing movement of both Tea Party-backed conservatives and progressives who are coming together to call for cuts in the defense budget."
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