New Polls Highlight Uphill Deficit Battle

Posted: Jun 17, 2012 2:20 PM
The Pew Research Center has long highlighted some of the difficulties that Republicans and Democrats have had in getting broad agreement on some of Washington's most pressing issues. In a piece released this week, Pew's President Andrew Kohut strung together a few graphs showing the American public's attitudes on reducing the deficit. It ain't pretty.

The reluctance to cut spending, or support tax increases, was foreshadowed by reaction to the sweeping recommendations issued in December 2010 by the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission created by President Obama. The commission had called for deep cuts in military and domestic spending, reducing or ending popular tax breaks (including the home mortgage interest deduction) and changes to entitlement programs.

There is strong resistance to any cuts in entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit, with 58% of Americans saying that to maintaining benefits as they are trumps deficit reduction, (35% favor taking steps to reduce the deficit). Nearly six-in-ten (59%) put a higher priority on avoiding any future cuts in benefit amounts than on avoiding Social Security tax increases for workers and employers, with 32% believing that avoiding tax increases is more important.

The good takeaway is that Republicans are taking the issue a lot more seriously nowadays. While it's difficult to believe the GOP's promises on fighting to restrain government spending after the big-government years of George W. Bush, Republicans have at least turned to saying that they care about the deficit.

However, as Kohut notes, the best and most comprehensive plan for reducing the deficit - the outline put forward by deficit commissioners Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles - meets with a harsh reaction from Americans when asked about its key proposals. People are hostile to equalizing the tax treatment of health insurance plans, they're hostile to raising Medicare contributions, and they're not huge fans of eliminating the home mortgage interest deduction either. In fact, what Americans seem most amenable to are - no surprise - policies that amount to punishing rich people.

Americans are also opposed to any changes to the current structure of entitlement programs. Free money, it turns out, is quite popular. This is the essential difficulty that Republicans have with deficit reduction: people don't want to give up their government benefits.

The following Pew infographic shows the stunning majorities that the status quo has for both Medicare and Social Security. This is what entitlement reformers are up against.

There is a long way to go.