The Real Mandate: Voters Want Jobs, Not Austerity

Robert Borosage

Washington is headed immediately into the fiscal showdown, with fierce pressure to use the arbitrary year-end deadline for the termination of various tax cuts and the automatic cut or sequester of some 9 percent of discretionary spending to force a grand bargain.

Here the president and the Congress are headed into a perilous territory, for there is a yawning gulf between the elite consensus in this town and where most Americans are. A multimillion-dollar campaign has been launched to mobilize CEOs to support a grand bargain that focuses on deficit reduction.

Americans are in a far different place, according to a poll we released today with Democracy Corps.

Voters are worried about both jobs and deficits. They see the two as the leading priorities for the president and Congress.

But these are not parallel worries.

Their first priority is to create jobs and get the economy going. Many mistakenly believe that large deficits cost jobs. But when we asked them to chose between work to “grow the economy” and a plan to “reduce the deficit,” they chose growing the economy by more than two to one 62-30, a margin of 31 percent, with 55 percent feeling strongly on the first.

Second, voters disagree strongly with the priorities of the elite consensus congealing around the president’s deficit commission co-chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, and his own discussions of a grand bargain with House Speaker John Boehner. Those discussions suggest a deal that trades cuts in Medicare and Social Security for tax reform that lowers rates for individuals and corporations while gaining revenue by closing loopholes – a sort of Romney-lite tax reform.

But to support that you have to have caught a strain of Romnesia – because you are simply forgetting about where most Americans are.

When it comes to a deficit reduction plan, Americans have clear ideas.

They want tax rates to be raised on the wealthy: 68 percent find a plan that did not raises taxes on the rich “unacceptable.” Seventy percent support a plan that raises taxes on the top 2 percent while keeping the taxes of others at the same level. Sixty-three percent would find a plan that continued to tax investors’ income at lower rates than worker’s wages unacceptable. Seventy-five percent would support a plan to create a higher tax bracket for millionaires. Sixty-seven percent find a plan that lowers tax rates on corporations or the rich unacceptable.

They do not want Social Security benefits cut over time. By 62 percent to 31 percent, they would find a plan that did that unacceptable.

They do not want Medicare payments cut or capped. Nearly four out of five, 79 percent, find capping Medicare payments forcing seniors to pay more unacceptable.

By 50 percent to 41 percent, they favor a deficit-reduction plan that starts with closing loopholes and raising tax rates at the top, and excludes cuts to Medicare and Social Security, over one that closes loopholes but “gets entitlement spending under control, including reducing the growth of Medicare and Social Security.”

A companion poll by the Roosevelt Center shows that by a margin of 30 percentage points – 62 percent to 30 percent – respondents agree that the deficit is a problem but we should not make major cuts in Social Security and Medicare, as opposed to seeing the “exploding deficit” as “national crisis” that requires “possible future cuts to Social Security and Medicare spending.”

The Congress has already passed $1.5 trillion in across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending over the next 10 years. The public is very skeptical about this. Most Americans do not share vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan’s scorn for poverty programs providing a “hammock” for the lazy.

Seventy-five percent – three-fourths of the country – find a plan unacceptable if it requires deep cuts in domestic programs without protecting programs for infants, poor children, schools and college aid.

Moreover, they embrace the president’s argument that we should reduce the deficit and invest in areas vital to the economy at the same time. By 70 percent to 27 percent, they support a plan to cut “wasteful spending and abolish special interest tax breaks and subsidies so that we can invest in infrastructure and technology and make sure we support education, Medicare and Social Security which are key to the middle class,” over a statement that “we have to cut spending seriously and that will require across-the-board reductions in the size of government…including education, Medicare and Social Security.”

This isn’t because they can’t find things they would cut. Eighty-nine percent would support a plan that included saving costs in Medicare by negotiating lower drug prices from the drug companies; 65 percent support cutting subsidies to the oil companies, agribusiness and multinationals; nearly three-quarters would cut military spending by ending the war in Afghanistan.

Despite a bad economy, despite the desire for change, Americans rejected the change offered by the tribune of the 1 percent. They want action on jobs and deficits, but they put a priority on jobs first.

They also want programs for the middle class – and the poor – protected. They want the rich and corporations to pay their fair share, and expect Congress to focus on wasteful subsidies to entrenched interests, not the programs for the vulnerable, when they turn to deficit reduction.

The Washington Post today contains a full-page ad supported by organizations representing the constituencies that helped build the winning coalition. They make it clear that they stand with the American majority. They won’t accept an agreement that sabotages growth or cuts programs vital to basic family security.

Their four pillars:

  • No deficit reduction until the economy recovers. Good Jobs first!
  • Roll back tax cuts for the rich – and don’t cut their taxes more.
  • No cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
  • Don’t make poverty worse by cutting programs for the most vulnerable.

Those principles speak to the values and opinions of most Americans. Just as in the last election, the CEOs will have more money to raise their voices. But they will be speaking past Americans who have a clear view of how we should proceed – and will want to know which side you are on.

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