A new USA Today/Gallup Poll found that when it comes to the deficit, Americans can agree on one thing, don’t gut Medicare. 69% of those surveyed opposed major cuts to Medicare. Agreement was found among both political parties as 69% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans opposed major cuts to Medicare.
The poll revealed that Americans largely approve of the budget deal that avoided a government shutdown, 62%-25%. The deal was popular with Democrats (71% approve), Independents (60% approve), and Republicans (58% approve). In a sign that the deal is perceived as fair, 56% said that neither side won with the compromise.
On the issue of how to lower the budget deficit those surveyed largely agreed with Obama’s proposal to increase taxes who those who earn $250,000 or more. 59% favored the tax increase, and 37% opposed it. The proposal is most popular with Democrats and Independents. 78% of Democrats and 60% of Independents polled felt that taxes should be increased, while 60% of Republicans responded that taxes should not be increased.
One thing that is clear. The Republican plan to lower the deficit with spending cuts, specifically through slashing Medicare, is not popular. 69% favored only minor changes or no changes at all to Medicare. Stunningly, the Republicans were most in favor of not touching Medicare. 33% of Republicans felt that nothing should be done to control costs. 29% of Independents and 21% of Republicans also favored the do nothing approach. Democrats and Republicans broadly agreed that only minor changes should be made. 69% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans wanted no or only minor changes.
Overall the country leans slightly against more domestic spending cuts, 47%-45%, but Republicans are treading on dangerous political ground when they oppose tax increases for higher earners and support cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare. The bedrock base of support for the current GOP is white Americans over age 65. I have a hunch that this is the group who are most opposed to Medicare cuts. If Republicans continue to sell out to the far right, they are jeopardizing their support with seniors.
As long as Obama and the Democrats keeps pushing the tax increase for those who make $250,000 while at the same time defending Medicare, they will maintain a strong political position. Americans of all political affiliations do not want the government to mess with Medicare.
Americans love Social Security and Medicare, and anyone who suggests gutting these programs is embarking on a political suicide mission. Americans always say that want a lower deficit and a balanced budget, and they will happily support these aims as long as it can be done without touching entitlements. The problem is that the only way the Republican plan to reduce the deficit and balance the budget works is by gutting entitlements.
By opposing all tax increases or new taxes, Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. They can both break their promise to their base and raise taxes, or they can earn the wrath of the American voter by messing with beloved entitlement programs. They have created a political no win situation for themselves.
Obama needs to stand tall in defense of Medicare and entitlements because no matter how much they try to resist, Republicans can’t stay away from the electrified third rail of American politics. If Obama joins Republicans in slashing Medicare, he will be making an unnecessary political blunder in the name of bipartisanship. Americans may hate the deficit, but they love their Medicare.
President Obama would be wise to remember this lesson as he gets set to tackle the thorny issue of spending and the deficit. No successful president ever wins by messing with beloved programs.
Obama must be the defender of Medicare and resist the temptation to join the conspiracy to assassinate it.