Nov 30, 2010
In the last few hours before the president’s deficit commission Dec. 1 deadline for issuing recommendations, and just minutes before the 3:30 p.m. news conference by deficit commission chairmen Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, there’s a lot of suspense, but it’s not the quiet variety. Rather, you could call it: action-packed. Packed with critical information, that is. First out of the gate this morning is Public Agenda with “The Buck Stops Where? D.C. Influencers And The Public Talk About The National Debt,” the latest in a series of surveys done for Our Fiscal Future on how leaders, influencers and the public feel about the national debt and the prospects for action to get it under control. Also out with a survey today: Gallup, asking Americans about the economy and the national debt.
Are Attitudes About The National Debt Changing? New Research Done For Our Fiscal Future
The nation’s movers and shakers remain convinced that the nation’s fiscal problems are important and practical solutions are out there – but there are significant differences in how different groups see the situation. “The Buck Stops Where? What D.C. Influencers And The Public Say About The National Debt,” Public Agenda’s November 2010 update and Part II in its series of surveys on this issue, also found a significant and widening gap between Republicans and Democrats on how serious the problem is, and, a gap between policymakers and other influential citizens on the prospects for practical solutions being implemented.
The survey, which examined both the attitudes of leaders, influential citizens in and around Washington, and those of the general public, found that while leaders and elites continue to hold similar views on the national debt overall, there’s a growing gap between the two groups in how strongly they feel about it. For example, majorities of both elites (86 percent) and leaders (77 percent) continue to agree that “there are at least several practical policy approaches to meet the country’s needs without causing the national debt to significantly rise.” Yet as in March, more elites (46 percent) “strongly agree” with this statement than do leaders (34 percent).
One significant change since Part I of the survey, done last spring, is a widening difference in depth of feeling between elites and leaders on another question, namely, whether “pragmatic solutions to the national debt will be impossible to achieve due to partisan politics.” Half of the elites we surveyed “strongly agree” with this pessimistic view, up 7 percentage points from March, while only about 3 in 10 leaders (29%) strongly agree. That’s down 7 percentage points, suggesting greater optimism about progress.
The general public, in its answers to several similar questions, in many ways mirrored the Washington debate. In particular, partisan differences between Republicans and Democrats are seen in both the general public and Beltway surveys. Click here to check out the full survey, including all questions and answers and a Powerpoint of the key findings of the research, done with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Also hot off the presses today: Gallup’s new survey which finds a majority of Americans say reducing the national debt is a better way to fix the economy than cutting taxes or raising taxes for the wealthy. Gallup also found a large partisan gap, with Republicans supporting this approach by a margin of nearly 2:1 compared to Democrats.
Here’s What They’re Up Against
When Simpson and Bowles meet the press today, not to mention hordes of economists, politicos and citizens watching and listening from all over, what kind of expectations will they have to face? One, says the Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery, is word from sources that they might be angling for a little more time before voting on their recommendations. Others, like Diane Lim Rogers, better known as @economistmom, are making a point of staying positive. Her message on the deficit: Can We Fix It? Yes, We Can. We tend to agree: while the choices aren’t easy, it can be done – with the public fully involved in deciding what kind of spending choices match both the money the nation has and the things its people believe are most important.
Pete Davis, posting on the Capital Gains & Games blog, doesn’t have high hopes for the deficit commission’s final impact: “Washington commissions rarely achieve much, so expecting this one to reach an agreement supported by 14 of 18 commissioners seems unrealistic to me. I expect Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to admit as much:” Fiscal Commission Expectations Are Too High
Also not very optimistic: Democrat Robert Reich, who believes there is “zero” likelihood that the deficit commission report will hit the points he views as most useful: ” The best outcome would be a unanimous report that focused on taming rising health-care costs (see first item above), rejected Republican calls to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy (see second item above), and supported extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and a new WPA (third item). Ideally, the report would also call for new investments in infrastructure and education that would grow the economy and thereby shrink the deficit as a share of GDP.”
Reich also sounds off on President Obama’s proposed two-year freeze on federal employees, an announcement which set the tone for today’s White House meeting with congressional leaders on the subject of what to do about hot button issues including whether, or how, to extend the expiring Bush-era tax cuts.
Pay Freeze Kicks Up A Lot Of Dust, And Some Applause
The proposed pay freeze is said to be worth close to $5 billion in reduced government spending, an amount the Los Angeles Times observes is “a mere sliver of the $1.3-trillion federal deficit.” Obama, putting his proposal in context, hinted at more to come: “The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require broad sacrifice.”
The president did win some points on the right. The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk calls the freeze “an important symbolic step” for which “the President deserves credit” although, in Sherk’s assessment, this can only be “a small first step.”
The @BudgetHawks at The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget mainly agree, applauding it as a bold gesture: “This is a great first step in deficit reduction. While this will not by itself solve our long term fiscal problem, it is a great pyschological step towards that eventual goal. This plan also is a symbol that everyone must share in deficit reduction efforts going forward, especially when many believe that federal workers are paid more than private sector workers.”
Federal workers, understandably, give the idea a cold shoulder and the reception isn’t any warmer from economist Paul Krugman. Krugman (who separately lauds the existence of the Our Fiscal Security deficit plan, one of two proposals released yesterday by liberal groups), in one of his trademark super-short blog postings, calls the freeze “a transparently cynical policy gesture, trivial in scale but misguided in direction.”
Also on the liberal side, econoblogger Brad DeLong provides an “Amen!” to Krugman, reprinting his key words, but the real action on DeLong’s Grasping Reality With Both Hands blog today is in the comments, which run the gamut from assessments of the impact of the pay freeze to speculations about how it will play with the public and political maneuvers on the issue of deficit and debt. Also in the Bronx cheer camp: Ezra Klein: Three Ways To Look At Obama’s Federal Pay Freeze
Perhaps fittingly, over at Politico, Jonathan Allen and Jake Sherman also zero in on the political aspects of the freeze: ” The president’s adoption of a GOP proposal that goes straight to the ideological divide between the parties — the size, scope and value of government — could be an early sign of White House efforts to move toward the political center in advance of the 2012 election.”
Allen and Sherman also point out a reality that could be viewed as a moment in time making this deficit debate a bit different from others in our history: the pay freeze was one of the ideas that won support in incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s YouCut online spending poll (crowd-sourced to some degree, with participants voting on pre-selected proposals): Was Barack Obama Triangulating On Federal Employee Pay Freeze?
Chart Of The Day
So just how much do the rich pay in taxes? We’re already hearing a lot about this, and before the volume rises much louder, it might be wise to look at the facts:
Join the discussion! Your voice is important. You can comment here on OurFiscalFuture.org, on Facebook, and on Twitter. And to learn more about the numbers that set the stage for some of our choices, check out our slideshow, iPhone and Android apps, and Our Fiscal Future’s Visual Budget Tool.
Fiscal Future Daily is produced by Public Agenda for Choosing Our Fiscal Future, in partnership with the National Academy of Public Administration and with support by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The editor in chief is Scott Bittle, with contributors Francie Grace, David White, Jen Vento, Hart Hooton and Tom Watson.