Poll: Tax hikes on rich the first step toward balancing budget

Increased taxes on high earners should be the first step toward balancing the federal budget, a new poll suggested Monday.

Raising taxes on the rich beats out cuts to defense spending, Medicare and Social Security as U.S. adults' top preference on how to close the deficit, according to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll.

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Sixty-one percent of Americans said that increasing taxes to the wealthy should be the first step toward balancing the budget.

By contrast, 20 percent of respondents preferred cuts to defense spending as the first option, while 4 percent said that cutting Medicare would be the best way to start cutting the deficit. Three percent said they preferred cutting Social Security.

Increased taxes on the wealthy tops those four options even among higher earners who might be most affected by a tax hike, the poll suggested. Fifty-eight percent of respondents making between $50,000 and $100,000 per year rated tax hikes as the best first step to balancing the budget, while 46 percent of those making more than $100,000 said it was their top choice, as well.

The incoming Republican House has expressed an eagerness to address the deficit and mounting U.S. debt. But the fight over tax cuts in the closing weeks of 2010 made clear the GOP isn't ready to address the budget through tax hikes, against which they vigorously fought in the lame-duck Congress.

The Obama administration has hoped tax reforms that might cut marginal rates while increasing revenue through closed loopholes might be possible with the GOP House, however.

Republicans have said that all other options are on the table, in terms of programs that could face cuts under their new majority. Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has called for an "adult conversation" about spending cuts, including possibly through reforms to the Social Security system.

The 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll was conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 2 and released on Monday. It has a three percent margin of error.