An impending vote by the president’s commission on the national debt is presenting one of the first true budget-cutting tests for both major political parties: can a bipartisan panel tasked to find cuts in the federal budget also find a balance between making hard decisions and facing tough political choices?
It’s a question that’s difficult to answer, and one that’s made all the more complicated by a recent Associated Press/CNBC poll which shows an American public very split on how to proceed. Most of the respondents, 59% to 39%, surveyed showed a preference for cutting services rather than raising taxes as a way to close the federal budget deficit. Yet, views are mixed on how to get there.
There is “little consensus on specific, meaningful steps — and a wariness about touching two gargantuan programs, Social Security and Medicare,” report Associated Press’ Alan Fram and Jennifer Agiesta. “[M]ost people oppose extending expiring tax cuts for the richest Americans. Just 34% want to renew tax cuts for everyone; 50% prefer extending the reductions only for those earning under $250,000 a year; and 14% want to end them for all.” This represents a dramatic reversal from last month’s poll asking the same question.
As MSNBC.com’s First Read puts it: “Despite the rhetoric, this is one issue where the public is NOT demanding specific action. The only shot Washington has of doing this is holding hands and jumping off the political cliff… together.”
However, one thing is for sure: the public is growing increasingly nervous about the $1.4 trillion national debt in a way that is unprecedented. Most Americans agree that a new and potentially more destructive economic crisis looms if Congress and the White House fail to enact key solutions.
Hence, the deficit panel faces a difficult landscape fraught with a number of political and economic potholes along the way. Recommendations include massive cuts to popular entitlements that most Americans – regardless of political or ideological affiliation – expect, from Social Security to Medicare. And, the specter of a debt crisis is growing so deep that members of the panel are recommending cuts to defense spending, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the federal budget.
The commission will need 14 out of 18 votes to move it to Congress for consideration. But, in a signal that panel members are nervous about the political timing and the tense climate on Capitol Hill over a wide range of key economic issues (including tax cuts and unemployment benefits), the commission delayed the final vote and scheduled it for Friday.
Some observers speculate that the panel could be waiting to see what actions Congress will take on the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts.
Jackie Calmes and Peter Baker in The New York Times report that the panel’s GOP members “generally oppose the chairmen’s draft plan because of its tax increases for upper-income Americans… The elected Democrats on the commission are resisting the scale of proposed reductions from future health care and Social Security programs.”
The recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform can be found in a document entitled “The Moment of Truth.” “Our challenge is clear and inescapable,” says the report. “America can not be great if we go broke. Our businesses will not be able to grow and create jobs, and our workers will not be able to compete successfully for the jobs of the future without a plan to get this crushing debt burden off our backs.”