Public opinion favors compromise on deficit deal

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 21, 2011 7:08 PM
Public opinion favors compromise on deficit deal

By Alister Bull

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A majority of Americans favor a compromise of spending cuts and tax increases by Washington to reduce the U.S. deficit, according to two polls on Thursday that highlight a powerful incentive for a deal.

Democratic President Barack Obama wants a grand bargain to lower the deficit by trillions of dollars and lift the U.S. debt ceiling by an August 2 deadline to prevent a potentially devastating default.

Budget talks between the White House and Republican lawmakers have stalled on the issue of tax increases, which Democrats insist must be part of any deficit reduction deal. Republicans strongly oppose any tax hikes.

But shifting public opinion could tip the balance in favor of a deal if Republicans decide they will bear the most blame from voters in next year's election if Washington fails to act on the debt ceiling and the economy tips back into recession.

"Americans are overwhelmingly in support of a compromise," said Karlyn Bowman, senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "That is a strong majority opinion."

A CNN/ORC International poll found 64 percent of those surveyed would prefer to trim the deficit by both spending cuts and tax increases, while a Washington Post-ABC News poll put that proportion at 62 percent, up from 57 percent in June.

"What the polls really show is dissatisfaction with everybody. The president is doing a lot better than the Republicans in Congress right now, but there is just widespread dissatisfaction," Bowman said.

Over three-quarters of the Washington Post-ABC News poll felt the Republican Party had not been willing enough to compromise with Obama for a deal, up from 71 percent n March.

More than half of those surveyed by CNN/ORC said Republicans should be blamed if the debt ceiling was not raised, compared to 30 percent who felt Obama would be responsible.

"I think public opinion is shifting and this is an issue that Republicans had traditionally led on," said Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at the Third Way think tank.

Republicans won heavily in congressional elections last year on a message of curbing government spending that capitalized on public anger over the soaring U.S. deficit, but Kessler said voters also want lawmakers in Washington to work together.

"Democrats seem to be winning the battle of seriousness because they've put everything on the table and Republicans have not," he said. "I think they are acutely aware that this debate seems to have turned against them."

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)