Hill Poll: Majority says deficit talks are doomed

A clear majority of voters expect President Obama and Congress will fail to reach a deal to prevent spending cuts and tax hikes on millions of households next year, according to a new poll for The Hill.

The survey found 58 percent of people have little or no confidence political leaders can negotiate a compromise before Jan. 1, reflecting deep pessimism among voters about Washington’s ability to solve major problems facing the country.

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Only 39 percent believe the two sides will reach an agreement that stops the looming combination of $500 billion in tax increases and $109 billion in automatic spending cuts, which economists say would trigger a recession.

Voters are eager to see the two sides come together on a long-term debt pact.

Fifty percent want Obama and congressional Republicans to strike a comprehensive deal before the end of the year, according to the poll, conducted for The Hill by Pulse Opinion Research. Only 36 percent believe it would be better to reach a short-term agreement that buys time for negotiators to reach a so-called “grand bargain” to slash the deficit.  

Strong majorities, however, oppose proposals that have been part of early talks — particularly Obama’s request for unilateral authority to raise the debt ceiling.

According to the poll, 59 percent reject the president’s demand that Congress give up power to set the country’s borrowing limit. Thirty-nine percent said the president should be the sole decision maker.

There is similar resistance to potential entitlement reforms that would see the age of eligibility for Medicare benefits rise from age 65 to 67, with 53 percent of likely voters saying they either somewhat or strongly oppose the idea.

The poll found 50 percent of voters believe Obama and Democrats are being “more reasonable” than Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the GOP in the ongoing talks. Thirty-eight percent of people said Boehner and the GOP were being more reasonable.

That finding furthers the perception Obama holds the upper hand in negotiations and that Republicans have more to lose if talks fail.

A Pew poll released last week, but conducted before Boehner made his latest offer in the talks, found 53 percent of people would blame Republicans if there is no deficit deal, while 27 percent would blame Obama.

Boehner last week asked that he and Obama be allowed to negotiate on their own without Senate leaders and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

Obama seeks a deal that includes $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue over 10 years and would allow rates to increase for families earning more than $250,000 a year.

Boehner has countered with an offer that includes $800 billion in new revenue through tax reform.

His proposal reportedly includes $600 billion in healthcare savings that could come, in part, from increasing the age of eligibility for Medicare coverage to 67.

On Friday, Boehner accused Obama of trying to “slow walk” the negotiations and said, “nothing is going to be possible” if the president continues to insist on tax rate increases for the wealthy.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said last week the White House was “absolutely” prepared to go over the fiscal cliff if Republicans don’t go along on tax increases for the wealthy.

The Hill Poll, however, suggests that attitude carries significant political risk for the president.

Just 10 percent of voters said it would be OK if no deal is reached.

The survey found far greater pessimism among Republicans about the prospects of a deficit deal, with 75 percent saying they had little or no confidence an agreement would be reached.

By contrast, 59 percent of Democrats expressed the belief a deal would be struck compared to 35 percent who had strong doubts about the chances for success.

Republicans are also adamantly opposed to giving Obama veto power over the debt-ceiling level with 81 percent against the demand set out by the president in his initial offer to Republicans.

Sixty-two percent of Democrats back the president’s request.

The country came to the brink of  a debt default  in the summer of 2011 — setting  the  stage for the current showdown — and is likely to reach its existing $16.4 trillion borrowing limit in February.

The partisan differences are less pronounced on Medicare’s future. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans strongly or somewhat oppose a deficit deal that raises the age of eligibility to 67.

A majority of Republicans (51 percent) and Democrats (55 percent) say they’d prefer to see a long-term deficit deal struck now, rather than see Obama and Republicans agree to a temporary fix.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.