A congressional budget deal expected this week might not be a grand bargain to solve the country’s long term fiscal woes, but it is largely what Americans want, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.
The likely deal would ease the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, with more defense and domestic spending, no major cuts in popular programs and no big tax increases – all what majorities of American voters prefer, according to the survey.
Negotiators have until Friday to reach an agreement, and return to work this week close to a deal that would spend about $1 trillion a year for the next two fiscal years on budget items such as education, environmental and transportation programs that are subject to annual approval from Congress. The rest of the federal budget, including such programs as Social Security, is on autopilot and does not need approval from Congress each year.
A key point of negotiation has been how to find some alternative to the second round of across-the-board spending cuts, or sequester, slated to go into effect in defense and many domestic programs on Jan. 15.
By 52-41, voters support replacing some cuts with increases to taxes and fees over going ahead with the cuts as scheduled.
Democrats are most in favor of replacing the cuts, 64-29. Independents favor replacing them by 52-40. Republicans, however, would prefer the schedule cuts to raising fees and taxes, by 55-38.
The across-the-board cuts were enacted in 2011 as a doomsday threat to force Congress and the White House to come up with a more deliberate alternative to curb budget deficits. The Congress and White House could not agree on other spending cuts or tax increases, and the sequester started taking effect March 1, with more scheduled every year for 10 years.
People saw the first round of cuts as having little positive impact or no effect on the economy -- or their personal situation.
Just 15 percent of voters thought the sequester had a positive effect on the economy, while 37 percent saw its impact as negative and 42 percent saw no effect.
Again, Democrats are the most critical of the cuts, with 50 percent saying they hurt the economy. Just 37 percent of independents and 23 percent of Republicans said the cuts hurt the economy.
A solid majority of voters overall, 63 percent, saw no impact of the spending on themselves or their families. Nearly a third, 31perecent, saw a negative impact, and 5 percent saw a positive impact.
The plan is unlikely to include any major tax increase—an important point for Republicans—or any big changes to entitlement programs like Medicare or Social Security, a win for Democrats. Some domestic and defense spending would be higher than anticipated.
That should be acceptable to the public, the poll suggested.
Four of five people opposed Medicare cuts. More than half said reductions in defense spending were unacceptable. Support for cuts to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, were split largely along party lines.
There was more sentiment for cuts in federal pay and benefits as 55 percent supported that approach.
People had little appetite for cuts that included entitlement spending—only 16 percent backed that approach. More than one-third supported primarily more revenue, such as limiting tax deductions on higher income, to reduce the deficit. Thirty-eight percent backed both approaches. Public sentiment so far is on the side of congressional Republicans, who control the House and have 45 of the Senate’s 100 seats. The poll found 47 percent thought Republicans have a better approach to dealing with the deficit. Forty-two percent backed President Obama’s approach.
This latest round of budget drama comes at a politically sensitive time. While economic indicators show improvement, the public still is skeptical—always a danger sign for incumbents.
The poll found 56 percent thought the worst was yet to come for the economy, up slightly from a year ago. Democrats were most likely to agree the worst is behind them—more than six in 10 felt that way. Republicans were more glum, as three in four saw conditions deteriorating.
More than two-thirds, 68 percent, do not think Obama and Congress could reach a budget deal before government funding runs out in mid-January, despite reports that a congressional agreement could come this week. They’re also not optimistic lawmakers can succeed in getting a deal approved.
“This is a very grumpy country right now,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in New York.
The public pessimism, said Miringoff, reflects months of growing dissatisfaction with Washington. 2013 has been a year of constant budget brinkmanship, most notably the Oct. 1-16 partial government shutdown.
“The numbers go to their broken trust,” Miringoff said of the public.
Overall, one-third of the entire sample thought they would be worse off in the coming year, while 42 percent saw things about the same and 24 percent were optimistic.
"Despite better economic news, people aren’t buying it," Miringoff said.
This survey of 1,173 adults was conducted Dec. 3-5. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the continental United States were interviewed by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler, Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this landline sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers from Survey Sampling International. The two samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2010 Census results for age, gender, income, race, and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. There are 988 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.