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The Public Can Agree on How to Cut the Deficit. Why Can't Congress?

November 14, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Here’s an idea for how Congress and the supercommittee can overcome gridlock and reduce deficits: stop paying so much attention to pundits and corporate lobbyisyts, and, instead, start listening to the people they were elected to serve. Unlike the hardened and polarized Washington establishemnt, the public-at-large has broad agreement on several proposals for handling budget deficits.

The latest reminder of this comes from a Politico poll conducted last week. The poll was conducted among 1,000 registered “likely” voters, split 41% Republicans/43% Democrats/14% Independents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%.

When questioned on which budget-balancing proposals they support, respondents had strong agreemnt on a couple of items. 89% said they support “closing tax loopholes and reforming the tax code to make the tax code fairer.” And 66% said they support “increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations.”

A couple ideas had similarly strong levels of opposition: cuts to Medicare and Medicaid through increasing beneficiary cost (76% opposed) and Cutting spending on defense programs (82% opposed).

Those are strong, clearly bipartisan majorities. If Congress was even close to representing the will of the people, these positions would be slam dunks. They’d even be filibuster-proof in the Senate.

Now obviously the details are important and would likely cause more dissent once they’re filled in — which tax loopholes should be closed, how should taxes on corporations be raised, and by how much? But what’s clear from the polling information is that the public is generally behind raising revenues and generally against cutting programs. Of course, to the extent that there is any deficit concept that bridges the two parties in Congress it’s that taxes should not be increased and programs need to be cut back. 

The problem is that there are incentives in the system for Congress to make sure the public loses. The pubilc-supported positions are in direct opposition to what’s supported by the people who fund their campaigns and can provide them with high-paying jobs when they retire from public service. Corporations don’t want to lose their loopholes and wealthy individuals don’t want to lose their ability to position income as long-term capital gains. This, of course, is why the supercommittee is giving special access and exclusive readouts to corporations and individuals that can afford access lobbyists at the same time that they’re keeping the public-at-large locked out.

(h/t Plum Line)

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