A national survey by the Pew Research Center showed a surprising — to me — 69 percent of the people polled said it was more important to keep the levels of current spending on Social Security and Medicare than to cut the deficit. And 59 percent favored keeping current spending levels for programs to help the poor rather than reduce the red ink.
These numbers underlay the decision by Republicans leaders to work out a deal to avert another government shutdown, partial or otherwise. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the recent GOP vice presidential nominee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) hammered out the compromise that cut about $63 billion in domestic and military spending while providing $23 billion in deficit reduction via extension of a two percent cut for Medicare providers.
This deal drew harsh opposition from some of the most conservative Republicans including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida who blasted the compromise as continuing “Washington’s irresponsible budgeting decisions by spending more money than the government takes in and placing additional financial burdens on everyday Americans.”
But that is not representative of most Republicans, according to the Pew poll. Sixty-two percent of Republicans said they favored keeping current spending levels for Social Security and Medicare as opposed to cutting the budget deficit. Ditto for 66 percent of independents and, not surprising, 79 percent of Democrats chose seniors over the military.
However, when it comes to programs for the poor and needy, there’s a huge gap between the major parties. Eighty-four percent of Democrats — more than eight out of 10 — favor keeping current spending levels for these programs. In sharp contrast, 55 percent of Republicans would rather cut the deficit than continue current spending for the poor and needy — underscoring the longstanding perception that the GOP is the “party of the wealthy,” unconcerned about the poor. It’s a challenge for the party to explain that it does want to help the truly needy but opposes handouts for the shiftless, etc.
Another negative for conservatives is the finding that 63 percent in the poll favored using a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes to reduce the deficit. On the positive side, a scant seven percent said the primary focus should be on raisig taxes, while 20 percent said it should be on spending cuts.
Reflecting a possible information gap, 66 percent of Americans in the poll said no progress had been made in reducing the deficit even though it has declined considerably in the past year. This could reflect the overwhelmingly negative feeling about our federal government, the depth of distrust and lack of confidence that is so widespread.
How will the Republican Party deal with the “perception challenge” — packaged as a higher minimum wage push by Democrats — in this election year?