GOP Scared of Opinion Backlash If U.S. Defaults

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Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

As the August 2 deadline to raise the nation's debt ceiling approaches, politicians and strategists in Washington have begun considering the near-unthinkable: America could default on its debt or, in order to pay its creditors, have to stop sending checks to millions of Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries. The Tea Party Caucus in the House — led by GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann and since dubbed by some the "Hell, No Caucus" — is worried that if no plan is reached and President Obama does stop mailing those entitlement checks, popular support for Republicans may fizzle. A Senate Republican aide who spoke to The Hill earlier this month neatly summed up the political calculus: "Democrats have the leverage if we have to pay the Saudi royal family the money we owe them and granny doesn’t get her check." That's why the Tea Party Caucus is pushing for a swift vote on the Full Faith and Credit Act (revised since first introduced in January this year) that would require President Obama to not only pay the interest on the nation's debt in case of default but also continue paying Social Security benefits and soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. While not clear if money would be available for all that, it surely shows a crack in the "popular mandate" armor Republicans have been showing off around town. So we decided to collect as many poll numbers as we could to find out just what the American people really think about this whole big debt mess, and maybe figure out which political party has the most to gain or lose if worst comes to worst.

Will a deal be reached in time? According to Gallup, 49 percent said yes; 47 percent said no. (53 percent of Democrats said yes; 51% of Republicans said no.)
The People's Answer: It may still come down on either side of the fence.

Should the debt ceiling be raised at all? A Gallup poll earlier this month found that only 22 percent would want their member of Congress to vote to raise the debt ceiling, compared to 42 percent who would want them to vote against it. (Seems a third of respondents just "don't know enough to say.") Among Republicans, only 11 percent are in favor of raising the debt ceiling. A Pew Research Center poll found slightly more reassuring numbers: 40 percent think the debt ceiling must be raised by the August 2 deadline, while 39 percent think we can just mosey on through next week "without major economic problems."
The People's Answer: If this were decided by popular vote, the debt ceiling would be going nowhere.

Who's the right person to fix the problem? 43 percent of people responding to a Gallup poll early this month said President Obama, with 46 percent picking "Republican leaders in Congress". (A Rasmussen poll gave Democratic congressional leaders sky-high disapproval numbers on the debt ceiling.) A Pew poll also gave Republicans just the slightest edge. But when Pew compared individual Republican and Democratic leaders, President Obama came out on top, with 48 percent saying they have confidence in him and just 33 percent saying the same for second-place House Speaker Boehner. (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got 30 percent more than Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor got 26 percent, three points less than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.)
The People's Answer: Definitely not congressional Democrats, a tepid maybe for congressional Republicans, and looks like President Obama still has a chance at coming out on top.

What's worse, not raising the debt ceiling, or raising it without a plan to cut spending? Gallup found that 55 percent of adults nationwide are more worried about the second scenario, with about a third saying they're more worried about the economic crisis that would result from a default.
The People's Answer: Seems the federal debt matters more to people than all the ifs floating out there about how markets would react to a default.

What will happen in case of a default? A slim majority of Americans do believe an economic crisis would result from a default, says Gallup, with just under 50 percent saying they don't think Social Security and veterans' benefits would be delayed.
The People's Answer: Well, nothing good will come of it, but it probably won't be nearly as bad as everyone's saying.

Should a deficit plan be cutting spending, raising revenue, or both? It's no surprise that most people would rather see the deficit cut primarily through spending cuts, but only 20 percent of Americans responding to a Gallup survey said they wanted "only spending cuts." (Even among Republicans, that number is only 24 percent.) Almost a third said deficit reduction should be achieved "equally with spending cuts and tax increases." A large majority (64 percent), according to a Pew poll, saw some combination of the two as a must. On what the end result will be, Rasmussen finds that 62 percent of likely voters think any plan will raise taxes too much and 56 percent think spending will be cut too little.
The People's Answer: We need both, but more spending cuts than taxes.

Should either side hold out for their ideal plan, or compromise? That's a no-brainer: compromise. Two-thirds of Americans in a Gallup poll want to see a deal even if no one's 100 percent happy with it. Among Republicans that number is a bit lower but still a solid majority.
The People's Answer: Compromise, damn it!

Is the debt/deficit even what the government should be most worried about? Sure, but only after dealing with the weak economy (priority No. 1 for 31 percent of people) and unemployment (the priority for another 27 percent). Nationwide, only 16 percent said the nation's federal budget, deficit, and debt deserved the country's undivided attention. That said, with 84 percent of likely voters following news reports about the debt talks, it's no surprise that some three-quarters of people agree it needs to be taken care of pronto.
The People's Answer: Now that you (dear government) got us stuck in this shambolic state of affairs, deal with it. But then get back to what really matters: the economy and jobs.

All in all, the American people seem a fair bit more level-headed than their elected representatives. (Stupid two-party system!) Now if only Washington could pick up on the signals, broker a middle-of-the-road deal, and stop trying to win the $4 trillion blinking contest it's been competing in these past few weeks.

Conservatives look to force Obama to pay Social Security, military if US defaults [Hill]