Spending problem or revenue problem? Americans say it’s both

April 20, 2011

As lawmakers make the rounds at town halls in their home districts this week discussing the country’s debt problem, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that a majority of Americans believes the country has both a revenue problem and a spending problem.

Fifty-nine percent of those polled said they believe the best way to reduce the federal deficit is through a combination of cutting federal spending and increasing taxes. (By contrast, 36 percent said just cutting spending is the best way, and 3 percent supported just cutting taxes.)

Democrats have advocated for including taxes in any comprehensive deficit-reduction plan, while Republicans have strongly opposed the idea, contending that the country’s debt is due not to too few taxes, but to too much spending.

The poll shows, however, that when presented with a specific plan on raising taxes and cutting spending – namely, the proposal by Obama’s deficit commission to slightly raise taxes on all Americans and make small reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits – a majority of respondents balks at the idea. Fifty-three percent of those polled said they would oppose such a plan, while 45 percent said they would support it.

The public opposition to specific cuts and tax increases has echoes of a February Pew Research Center survey asking respondents whether they would approve or disapprove of particular cuts to the federal budget. While Americans approve of spending cuts in general, the Pew poll showed bipartisan opposition to cuts in 17 of 18 specific areas of federal spending ranging from education and transportation to entitlement programs and defense spending.

Both surveys underscore the political peril that accompanies any effort to overhaul federal entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, as House Republicans have proposed to do in their 2012 fiscal year budget, which passed the House late last week.

The new Post poll also shows that when it comes to tackling the national debt, nearly three-quarters of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy.

Seventy-two percent of those polled said they would support raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year in order to reduce the national debt, as President Obama proposed in his speech at George Washington University last week.

The idea of raising taxes on the wealthy enjoys bipartisan support, with 91 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents and 54 percent of Republicans saying they would back such a plan.

Obama holds a slim edge over congressional Republicans in the poll when it comes to handling taxes: 47 percent of those polled said they trust Obama to do a better job on taxes, while 42 percent said they trust Republicans more. That’s a slight uptick from last December, when 43 percent trusted Obama more while 44 percent trusted Republicans more.

The poll, conducted April 14 to 17, had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Click here for the full results, and click here for more from The Post’s Paul Kane on what the poll reveals about public attitudes toward Congress.

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