THE HILL POLL: US future depends on cutting debt, voters say

Likely voters overwhelmingly believe deficit reduction is crucial to America’s future, but generally oppose raising revenue through tax reform to cut those deficits, a new poll conducted for The Hill found.

A full 95 percent of likely voters believe that lowering the debt is either very or somewhat important, the poll found, with only 2 percent finding the issue not at all or not very important.

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Not surprisingly, respondents had a more nuanced take on tax reform, with likely voters saying they prefer spending cuts to tax increases to shoulder the brunt of lowering the country’s debt.

Still, a plurality endorsed the general idea of lowering tax rates while eliminating many tax credits and deductions. Respondents were split, however, on whether they would be willing to give up their long-held deduction for mortgage interest, a tax expenditure that has received backing of powerful supporters like President Reagan during past pushes to overhaul the tax code.

The Hill’s poll of 1,000 likely voters, conducted March 2, comes as tax reform has been discussed for months. In its report issued last year, President Obama’s fiscal commission devised a plan to use a combination of tax-code changes and spending cuts to get the country’s fiscal situation more in line.

For its part, the Obama administration has especially expressed interest in reforming the corporate tax code in a way that does not add to the deficit. But some Republicans on Capitol Hill have called for more comprehensive tax reform, and appear less concerned about whether a tax-code overhaul would bring on more debt at first.

Forty-two percent of likely voters appear to share the GOP’s line of thinking, believing that a tax-reform plan should lower taxes and bring in less revenue.

Less than a third (29 percent) of respondents believe tax reform should produce extra revenue earmarked for deficit reduction, while only about one in five (19 percent) believe an overhaul of the tax code should be revenue-neutral — the path the Obama administration has called for in its push for corporate tax reform.

On this particular issue, Independent voters had almost exactly the same thoughts as likely voters at large, with 44 percent backing the concept of a tax-reform plan that lowers taxes and brings in less revenue.

As for the mortgage interest deduction — which allows homeowners to subtract the amount of their yearly mortgage interest payments from their taxable income — 42 percent of likely voters said they could live without it in exchange for lower tax rates, while 41 percent favored keeping that deduction.

Opinions diverged when it came to the income level of respondents: the income group most willing to leave the deduction behind was of those making less than $20,000 annually (55 percent favored doing away with it). Taxpayers making between $60,000 and $75,000 a year showed the strongest attachment to it (59 percent favored keeping it), while the most evenly split income group was of those making more than $100,000 a year (44 percent in favor, 43 percent not).

The Hill’s poll also found that only a quarter of likely voters approved of the basic ratio that the president’s fiscal commission proposed — two-thirds spending cuts, one-third tax revenue — to bring down budget deficits. More than half of likely voters preferred a bigger proportion of savings to come from spending cuts.

A Pew Research poll from December found that more than nine in 10 believed the federal budget deficit is a major problem. But that survey also found that Americans disapproved of the debt panel’s proposals by a 48 percent to 30 percent margin.