JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 3, 2011
Interesting findings from the NBC/WSJ poll. Asked about deficit reducing options, the options the public overwhelmingly favors are ones Democrats favor, and the options they overwhelmingly oppose are ones Republicans are promising to propose:
[The survey] listed 26 different ways to reduce the federal budget deficit. The most popular: placing a surtax on federal income taxes for those who make more than $1 million per year (81 percent said that was acceptable), eliminating spending on earmarks (78 percent), eliminating funding for weapons systems the Defense Department says aren’t necessary (76 percent) and eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries (74 percent).
The least popular: cutting funding for Medicaid, the federal government health-care program for the poor (32 percent said that was acceptable); cutting funding for Medicare, the federal government health-care program for seniors (23 percent); cutting funding for K-12 education (22 percent); and cutting funding for Social Security (22 percent).
But the public demands deficit reduction, right? Well, actually, they care more about jobs:
In the poll, eight in 10 respondents say they are concerned about the growing federal deficit and the national debt, but more than 60 percent — including key swing-voter groups — are concerned that major cuts from Congress could impact their lives and their families.
What’s more, while Americans find some budget cuts acceptable, they are adamantly opposed to cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and K-12 education.
And although a combined 22 percent of poll-takers name the deficit/government spending as the top issue the federal government should address, 37 percent believe job creation/economic growth is the No. 1 issue.
Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, says these results are a “cautionary sign” for a Republican Party pursuing deep budget cuts.
He points out that the Americans who are most concerned about spending cuts are core Republicans and Tea Party supporters, not independents and swing voters.
“It may be hard to understand why a person might jump off a cliff, unless you understand they’re being chased by a tiger,” he said. “That tiger is the Tea Party.”
By the standards of these things, those are extremely sharp comments from McInturff. Leaders are usually more worried about internal threats than external threats. Boehner needs to make sure he doesn't get deposed as speaker before he worries about winning a showdown with Democrats.
The specifics of the fight -- Republicans promising to cut overwhelmingly popular programs, being willing to shut down the government, and pushing a plan that private analysts predict will reduce jobs -- put them in a very tough position. Republicans are working really hard to buck each other up and ignore data about public opinion. Democrats have the upper hand here. President Obama may decide to cut a deficit deal, but both the politics and the policy say he should hand the Republicans their head first.