WASHINGTON — People have little confidence that Congress' supercommittee can reach agreement on how to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
The 12-member committee has until Wednesday to approve a plan or automatic spending cuts would be triggered, starting in 2013. So far, though, there's been little evidence of progress, and leaders of both parties Thursday sounded glum about prospects.
The public would not be surprised. The survey, conducted Nov. 8-10, found 85 percent was not very confident or not confident at all that the committee could reach an agreement. Only 13 percent was confident. The poll's error margin is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Gloom was uniform across party lines: 82 percent of Democrats, 84 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of independents expressed little or no confidence.
The public's view of the supercommittee was similar to its view of Congress: 28 percent liked the Democrats' performance, but 65 percent did not, while 23 percent approved of the job Republicans are doing, but 70 percent didn't.
Even half of Republicans disapproved of the GOP's work, while 43 percent approved. And 54 percent of tea party supporters, who tend to support Republicans, were dissatisfied with them — perhaps not surprising since many conservatives have said GOP leaders are not cutting spending enough.
Overall, the low ratings reflect a sour public mood about Washington, said Marist poll director Lee Miringoff. "This is government paralysis at work," he said. "This is what people have been upset about."
The supercommittee, consisting of six Republicans and six Democrats, continued to meet Thursday in small groups with congressional leaders and others throughout the day.
Republicans have offered to raise tax revenues by several hundred billion dollars — the exact number is in flux during negotiations — notably by limiting income tax deductions while cutting tax rates. Democrats have proposed far higher revenue numbers but indicated they are willing to accept the GOP figure. But Democrats also have been eager to impose higher rates on the wealthy.
The impasse is familiar, Miringoff said, months after the two sides deadlocked over budget cuts and increasing the government debt ceiling.
"This looks like the same old show," Miringoff said.
The poll found public sentiment for specific parts of a possible supercommittee deal was somewhat different than politicians might expect — further evidence, Miringoff said, of the disconnect between Washington and the electorate.
For instance, there was considerable sentiment for higher taxes on businesses and the wealthy. Two-thirds said taxes should be raised on higher-income Americans. Eighty-three percent of Democrats agreed, and so did 53 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of independents.
And 61 percent of all voters favored a surcharge on income of $1 million or more, including 77 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents — but only 43 percent of Republicans.
There were even bigger party splits on defense spending cuts. Overall, voters said by 51 percent to 45 percent that the panel should not make major defense cuts. But 62 percent of Democrats said it should, while 68 percent of Republicans said it should not. Independents split 54-43 against deep defense cuts.
Voters from both parties did agree on cuts to Social Security and Medicare — they oppose them: 86 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of independents said don't cut those programs.
The poll also asked voters about a flat tax, an idea widely discussed idea by Republican presidential candidates. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has proposed giving people the option of paying a flat 20 percent rate or sticking to the current system, while businessman Herman Cain is pushing his 9-9-9 plan, which would impose a flat 9 percent tax on individuals, businesses and sales, while limiting deductions.
The poll's findings of how a flat tax would impact:
- The wealthy: Respondents were split, with 38 percent saying the rich would pay lower taxes, 36 percent saying they'd pay more, and 21 percent said they'd pay about the same. Most independent tax analysts say a flat tax would benefit the rich most.
- Middle class: 37 percent were convinced this group would pay more, 14 percent said they'd pay less and 43 percent thought it would be the same amount.
- The poor: 52 percent said they'd pay more, 18 percent said less and 25 percent said about the same.
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