Cuts, not taxes, preferred to tame US deficit, poll finds
But few agree where to trim
WASHINGTON — To ease surging budget deficits, Americans preferred cutting federal services to raising taxes by nearly 2-1 in a new poll. Yet there was little consensus on specific, meaningful steps — and a wariness about touching two gargantuan programs, Social Security and Medicare.
An Associated Press-CNBC Poll showed widespread anxiety about budget shortfalls exceeding $1 trillion a year. Eighty-five percent said they worry that growing red ink will harm future generations — the strongest expression of concern since AP polls began asking the question in 2008. Fifty-six percent said they think the shortfalls will spark a major economic crisis in the coming decade.
As for detailed cures, the poll showed little agreement — a problem that has long bedeviled lawmakers who often speak about taming federal deficits but seldom vote to do so. Given more than a dozen options for helping balance the budget, majorities backed just four: Reduce the number of federal workers, trim their salaries, cut overseas military bases, and eliminate the tax deduction on home mortgage interest in exchange for lower income tax rates.
“I’m sure there’s waste somewhere,’’ said Terri Davis, 44, a travel company employee from Ashburn, Va. “But I like a lot of government programs that keep order in the streets, that do research about what’s dangerous. A lot of things are worthwhile.’’
Budget deficits have been winning increased attention from President Obama and congressional Republicans, who will control the House next year and wield increased clout in the Senate. Despite their midterm election victory, the GOP held only a slight edge in trust on addressing the deficit, with 1 in 8 respondents saying they trust neither party, the poll shows.
Obama announced a pay freeze Monday for the government’s 2 million nonmilitary civil servants, saying, “Getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice.’’ A bipartisan deficit commission that Obama appointed is to issue a report this week.
Asked to choose between two paths for balancing the budget, 59 percent in the AP-CNBC Poll preferred cutting unspecified government services while 30 percent picked unspecified tax increases.
The AP-CNBC Poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Nov. 18-22 and involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,000 adults chosen randomly nationwide. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
The results underscored the political peril legislators face in considering tax boosts, especially with the struggling economy, joblessness, and the ascendant Tea Party movement insisting Washington is too powerful.
In a reversal from last month, most people opposed extending expiring tax cuts for the richest Americans. Just 34 percent wanted to renew tax cuts for everyone; 50 percent preferred extending the reductions only for those earning under $250,000 a year; and 14 percent want to end them for all.
If there was a ray of hope for policymakers, it wass the expectation many respondents expressed for a broadly aimed deficit-reduction effort.
Asked to consider each budget-balancing strategy separately, nearly two-thirds said tax increases will be needed to eliminate deficits and almost 8 in 10 said government services will have to be cut.