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GOP fiscal plans sharply at odds with public opinion

As fiscal talks continue in Washington, Republicans are already facing several disadvantages.
GOP fiscal plans sharply at odds with public opinion
GOP fiscal plans sharply at odds with public opinion

As fiscal talks continue in Washington, Republicans are already facing several disadvantages. Not only is President Obama holding a stronger hand -- with looming tax hikes, he clearly has more leverage -- polls show the American mainstream more likely to blame the GOP if talks fail.

But for Republicans, it gets worse. They have fairly specific policy goals in mind, but haven't persuaded the public at all. Consider the results of the new ABC News/Washington Post poll, which I turned into a chart.

Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to prevent higher tax rates on income above $250,000, but a clear majority of Americans support the idea. Republicans are pushing limits on tax deductions, and in this case, a plurality of Americans opposes the measure.

And on Medicare, which GOP policymakers are eager to cut, an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose raising the eligibility age -- an idea Republicans have repeatedly floated.

In other words, in the fiscal fight, the American mainstream disagrees with congressional Republicans on everything.

Wait, it gets worse.

When you dig through the internals (pdf) a bit, you find the results broken down by party and ideology, and while higher tax rates on the wealthy remain unpopular on the right, the poll found self-identified Republicans and self-identified conservatives balking at the very ideas GOP policymakers are pushing in Washington.

In other words, the Republicans' own rank-and-file supporters oppose their own party's proposals.

In a rather amusing twist, while only 30% of self-identified liberals support raising the Medicare eligibility age, among those who consider themselves "very conservative," support is even lower, at 29%.

Republicans hope to persuade the White House and congressional Democrats to embrace these far-right provisions, but Republicans haven't even persuaded their own voters yet. If this doesn't strengthen Democrats' resolve in the negotiations, they're not paying close enough attention.

Postscript: At the risk of being overly wonky, it's also worth pausing to note that trying to lower the debt by raising the Medicare eligibility age is an awful idea. Phil Longman had a good piece on this about a year ago.

Raising the Medicare retirement age to 67, a move favored by deficit hawks in both parties, might at first seem to be a reasonable adjustment. Since we are all living much longer, the idea goes, we can afford to wait longer to become entitled to Medicare. But the premise is false. For fully half of the U.S. population (specifically the poor and working-class Americans with earnings at or below the median), life expectancy at 65 is virtually unchanged since the 1970s. In many parts of the country, including much the South, life expectancy at birth for black males is not yet even 65, and in some places it is as low as 59.As with plans to voucherize Medicare, the primary effect of increasing the age of Medicare eligibility would be to shift costs onto needy individuals, while also leading to worse health outcomes. Nor, in the grander scheme of things, would the proposal save the government much money, since most Medicare spending is concentrated on people well over the age of 67, and many of the people who would be cut from the Medicare rolls would wind up on Medicaid or qualifying for other means-tested government subsidies. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if the proposal were fully in effect in 2014 it would generate only about $5.7 billion in net federal savings but would impose twice as much cost ($11.4 billion) on individuals, employers, and states.

Similarly, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities tackled this, as did Paul Krugman, who described the proposal as “a terrible idea.”

First, the underlying notion — Americans are living longer, so retirement programs should start later — is true only of the upper half of the income distribution. Life expectancy for the other half has not risen much….Second, raising the Medicare age would make America as a whole poorer — because while it might save the government some money (and even that isn’t totally clear, because treatment of some conditions would be delayed and impose higher costs when people finally do get on Medicare), it would push people into higher-cost private coverage. Austin Frakt estimates $2 of private costs for every dollar of budget savings.This is, in short, a very poor idea — and obviously so. So naturally it’s hardening into orthodoxy among the VSPs.

That Americans hate the idea, too, is just gravy.