So will it be pepperoni or stuffed crust? Before Green Bay and New Orleans kickoff the 2011 NFL season tonight, President Obama takes the podium to face a nation jaded by high unemployment and deep distrust of everything Washington. But he also faces a public that paradoxically supports both spending programs and deficit cuts as a way to jumpstart the economy. If his recent town hall forums are any indication, Obama plans to channel Deion Sanders and endorse “both” in an effort to convince the public he has the right recipe to bring the economy around.
In Minnesota last month, Obama argued “The key right now is to get a long-term plan for fiscal stability. And in the short term, we should actually make more investments that would put people to work and get the economy moving.”
So what does the public want?
As far as spending to stimulate the economy, upwards of six in 10 Americans said tax cuts on businesses and individuals as well as infrastructure spending would help the economy at least “a little” in a Washington Post-Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday. And the public is on balance supportive of specific proposals Obama plans to unveil tonight, including paying companies to train unemployed workers, paying for road construction and cutting the payroll tax rate, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll published this Wednesday (see the table below for exact numbers).
But doesn’t the public also want spending cuts?
Very much so. In the very same Post-Pew poll that majorities said tax cuts or infrastructure spending would help at least “a little,” almost two thirds said “budget cuts to reduce the deficit” would help the jobs situation. Some 44 percent said the spending cuts in August’s debt ceiling agreement didn’t go far enough, while 15 percent said they went too far, according to a CBS/New York Times poll. The deficit is a persistent national concern: Nearly half of adults described the nation’s financial situation as a “crisis” in an August Post poll, and 52 percent said the credit downgrade from Standard and Poor’s was a “fair assessment.”
When forced to choose between government spending and deficit reduction, Americans split right down the middle: 47 percent chose spending, while 46 percent chose deficit reduction in an August Pew poll. That’s a slight shift from June, when the public favored deficit cuts by a 10-point margin.
A key challenge Obama faces tonight is the widespread perception that he’s a proponent of big government while the nation prefers smaller government. In the latest Post-ABC poll, 70 percent said Obama wants a “larger government with more services.” By contrast, only 38 percent of the public says they want a bigger government; 56 percent want smaller government. That philosophical chasm was a potent line of attack on display at last night’s GOP debate, where Republicans chorused that government is not the answer to the nation’s economic woes.