Poll: Deficit essential issue for Congress to tackle
76% want combo of spending cuts, tax increases
Do-nothing Congresses need not apply: a majority of Americans want something done on the federal deficit this year, an opportunity lawmakers will have when they return from their vacation.
Seven of 10 surveyed in a new Pew Research and USA Today poll released Thursday said major legislation on the deficit is the most important issue on Congress' plate, topping immigration, gun legislation and other issues.
The survey came out about a week before forced federal spending cuts are set to trigger automatically, slashing $85 billion in spending by federal agencies over the next seven months.
Americans are also opinionated on how deficit reduction should be achieved.
Three-quarters -- 76 percent -- want a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, and 73 percent say the effort should include more spending cuts than tax increases. Two in 10 say only spending cuts should be included in a package. President Barack Obama describes his plan for spending cuts and tax increases as a balanced approach, while congressional Republicans say the economy cannot handle more tax increases. The poll showed 88 percent of Republicans said the solution should either be entirely or mostly through spending cuts.
Obama appears to have the upper edge in the court of public opinion. Should the spending cuts go into effect, 49 percent said Republicans in Congress would take the blame and 31 percent said the blame would rest with Obama.
A separate survey released by Bloomberg late Wednesday similarly found Republicans were more to blame than Obama for the dysfunction in Washington by a 43 percent to 34 percent margin. It showed Obama held a 55 percent approval rating, the same number shown in a CNN/ORC poll released before his inauguration to a second term.
While the March 1 deadline approaches fast, the Pew and USA Today poll says the public is largely unaware of the looming threat. Three in 10 know nothing of the forced spending cuts, 43 percent know a little of it and 27 percent know a lot about it.
If the deadline arrives without a deal, 49 percent said the cuts should be delayed and 40 percent said the cuts should go into effect. The Obama administration said this month the cuts to defense spending would be about 13 percent and to other programs, about 9 percent. Entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security are sheltered from the cuts.
Deficit reduction topped the list of key priorities, according to the poll, which showed only 51 percent saw immigration legislation as essential. Gun legislation was rated essential by 46 percent, though Democrats thought it more important -- 71 percent -- than did Republicans -- 19 percent -- by a wide margin.
On immigration, the Pew and USA today said their polling showed an increasing number of Americans favored both increasing enforcement and creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Forty-seven percent supported a proposal including both aspects, while a quarter of Americans favored strengthened enforcement alone. Another quarter wanted a path to citizenship alone.
The Bloomberg survey found 35 percent favored a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants without a criminal record who pay taxes, learn English and pay a fine. Eighteen percent said a path to citizenship or legal status should wait for improvements in border security.
The Pew and USA Today poll included 1,504 adults contacted by telephone between Feb. 13-18 and had a sampling error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. The Bloomberg survey included 1,003 adults reached by phone between Feb. 15 and 18, and had a sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 points.
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