Deficit, schmeficit, cont’d

DEFICIT, SCHMEFICIT, CONT’D…. The AP has a fairly detailed report this morning on the results of a new Associated Press-CNBC Poll purporting to show “widespread anxiety” about the federal budget deficit. Not surprisingly, the results of the survey suggest the public isn’t sure how best to solve the problem — folks seem to prefer spending cuts to tax increases, but balk at the idea of touching Social Security and Medicare.

One poll respondent told the AP, “I’m sure there’s waste somewhere.” Yeah, that’s helpful.

For 16 paragraphs, the AP’s report goes on and on about public attitudes on how best to close the budget shortfall, who should feel the burden, and the risk the deficit poses to future generations. Way down in the 17th paragraph, though, we get to the part that matters.

Even so, the public is not bristling to tackle the deficit. Of seven issues tested, the deficit was even with taxes as fifth most mentioned, well behind the economy.

Right. For all the talk about how to reduce the deficit, and commissions working out plans to reduce the deficit, and removing capital from the economy in order to reduce the deficit, there’s one nagging detail: Americans want a stronger economy, and aren’t all that concerned about reducing the deficit right now.

We keep seeing this same result. A recent CBS News poll asked Americans what they’d like to see Congress focus on next year. The results weren’t close — a 56% majority cited “economy/jobs” as the top issue. Health care was a distant second at 14%, while tackling the deficit/debt was a very distant third at 4%. A week later, Gallup found a combined 64% of the country cited “economy/jobs” as the top issue in the country, while the deficit was a distant fifth at 9%. The AP’s poll is in line with the others.

The political world, in other words, continues to have the wrong conversation. Policymakers want to take steps that reduce the deficit, at the expense of the economy, despite the fact that the vast majority of the country seems to think that’s backwards.

Emboldened Republicans, in particular, seem to be operating in some sort of bizarro world, putting deficit reduction at the top of their list of priorities — except when they do the opposite, pushing for trillions of dollars in tax cuts — even if it undermines the health of the economy. (That the deficit is largely the result of Republicans’ own policies appears to be an ironic detail that they’d prefer we not mention.)

And just as an aside, also note that the same AP-CNBC poll asked the public about tax policy. It found 50% of Americans support extending Bush-era rates only for those earning under $250,000 a year, and an additional 14% who want all Bush-era rates to expire on schedule. Only a third supports the Republican plan.

With these numbers in mind, Democrats have public backing, but seem to be acting as if they don’t, while Republicans have the unpopular position, while pretending the opposite.

Sigh.