(IPS) In Debt Debate, Most US Voters Prefer Tax Fairness to Cuts
This article first appeared on the Inter-Press Service website at: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=107590
ATLANTA, April 26, 2012 (IPS) – A giant digital “clock” on Sixth Avenue in New York keeps track of a number, currently at 15.6 trillion dollars and counting. As the number soars ever higher into the stratosphere, so U.S. voters are increasingly concerned, for the number represents the debt of the United States.
“High government spending, the budget deficit and taxes” are among the two top concerns for 37 percent of U.S. voters, according to recent polling by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR) on behalf of Democracy Corps.
Though many agree that national debt is a major issue, there is less political consensus on how to address it. Aside from agreeing on cutting defence spending, the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party have entirely different approaches for reducing the national debt.
The Tea Party, a loosely structured activist group, and the Republican Party have made national debt a key theme during recent political campaigns, saying the growing debt underscores the need for cutting federal spending.
“We don’t address our problems with more spending,” Julianne Thompson, state director of Tea Party Patriots of Georgia and co-organiser of the Atlanta Tea Party, told IPS.
The Tea Party calls for significant cuts to the federal budget, as opposed to new revenues, to address the federal debt. These cuts, however, would come out of a host of different programs.
When asked if the Tea Party supports cutting education, Thompson replied that “the problem with the federal Department of Education and the problem with the state is the overly inflated salaries of administrators, versus actually putting the money into the education for the children and good quality teachers”.
Regarding cuts to food stamps, Thompson said she personally believed “they should be available to those who are extremely poor and children – people that need assistance. There’s absolutely no denying there are people that need assistance”.
The problem, Thompson said, “is the fraud and abuse when it comes to our federal and state programs”. She called for cracking down on fraud and abuse, adding, “When we do, we’ll see substantial cuts and the money will be going to people that need it”.
Thompson said that the Tea Party generally supports cutting defence spending, including pork barrel projects that benefit certain Congressional districts, and that she personally supports ending the occupation of Afghanistan.
When the U.S. Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction – a bipartisan, bicameral, so-called supercommittee created to identify ways to cut federal spending but failed to come up with a unified approach – met between August and November 2011, Occupy Washington, D.C., held its own “supercommittee”.
“We issued a report based on a hearing called the 99 Percent Deficit Reduction Plan,” Kevin Zeese, an activist with Occupy Washington, D.C., told IPS.
Occupy’s strategy for dealing with the national debt has three parts.
“First, taxing the one percent (wealthiest individuals) in a more progressive tax system, including corporate taxes, higher income taxes on wealthy Americans and Social Security taxes going up in terms of the income cap. Second, cut the bloated military budget. Third, grow the economy,” Zeese said.
“If you focus on cutting spending in an austerity measure approach, you’re not going to cut the deficit… it’s too big… the way to cut the deficit is the three things we talk about,” Zeese said.
Supporting social programmes
U.S. voters generally do not favour cutting social programmes such as those that comprise an economic safety net for the poor, according to the GQR poll when it asked respondents which programmes they would cut.
80 percent oppose cuts to food safety programmes, 78 percent oppose cuts to education, and 73 percent oppose cuts to local government funding, meals for elderly people, or Head Start early childhood education programmes.
Despite popular beliefs fuelled by the media, nearly two-thirds of U.S. voters oppose cuts to funding for programmes which benefit impoverished families, such as food for women with infants and small children, and funding for poor neighborhoods.
GQR also produced interesting results from focus groups conducted during President Obama’s recent State of the Union addresses, where voters are asked to turn a dial to indicate their level of support for – or opposition to – various statements Obama makes during the speech in real-time.
In Obama’s 2011 address, voter support jumped when he stated, “I recognise that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Their research also showed that when voters watched the speech, they responded well to Obama’s messages about tax fairness and wealthy people paying their fair share. Voters did not respond well, however, to Obama’s statements about the economy getting better, because for most voters the statements are not true.
U.S. voters generally support progressive tax policies. 64 percent of those polled support eliminating tax breaks for companies who outsource jobs to other countries; 63 percent support raising the Social Security payroll tax cap on incomes higher than 107,000 dollars; and 62 percent support taxing excessive Wall Street profits.
54 percent of U.S. voters support allowing the tax cuts for wealthy individuals making more than 250,000 dollars per year, enacted under the former president George W. Bush, to expire.
The Tea Party, however, is opposed to this. “We don’t want to end those tax cuts,” Thompson said. “I don’t believe in punishing a person for being successful.”