Poll: Clear majority oppose elimination of popular tax breaks

A clear majority of those polled oppose reforms that eliminate tax deductions to either lower tax rates or reduce the federal budget deficit, several of which are included in congressional proposals related to the budget. 

Of the respondents who were asked about eliminating the deductions as part of a plan to lower the overall tax rate, 61 percent oppose eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, 62 percent are against nixing the state and local taxes deduction and 71 percent don't want to lose their ability to write off contributions to local charities, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. 

When asked about eliminating the same deductions to reduce the federal budget deficit, 68 percent oppose eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, 58 percent oppose ending the deduction of state and local taxes and 60 percent don't want to lose their ability to deduct contributions to local charities. 

Several budget plans being floated by lawmakers and those outside Congress call for lower overall tax rates, and suggest the elimination of an array of popular deductions. 

The fiscal 2012 budget by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which was approved by the House on Friday on a party-line vote, would essentially require that several of the deductions be eliminated. 

President Obama's deficit-reduction commission, led by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erskine Bowles, called for eliminating the mortgage interest deduction. 

Last week, the White House announced the creation of a new deficit commission led by Vice President Biden that will study the issue again. 

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of six senators is working on its own deficit-reduction plan. 

Outside of budget talks, eliminating deductions is likely to be part of any discussion to simplify the tax code, although that process is expected to continue through at least the 112th Congress. 

Even with broad support for the deductions, many taxpayers don't itemize their returns. The percentage claiming any of the three deductions ranges from 43 percent for mortgage interest to 58 percent for state and local taxes, the poll found. 

As might be expected, those who claim each of these deductions are more likely to oppose eliminating them than are those who don't claim the deduction. But even among the latter group, opposition is near or exceeds 50 percent.

Politically, Republicans are more likely to oppose eliminating the mortgage interest deduction (72 percent) than are Democrats (59 percent) or independents (54 percent). 

Party differences are narrower in terms of the deductions for charitable gifts — 73 percent of Republicans oppose, while 72 percent of Democrats are against their elimination. For the state and local taxes paid, 65 percent of Republicans oppose while 60 percent of Democrats are against removing the deduction.