Voters could easily reach a bipartisan deficit deal, study finds

Politicians struggle to reach budget deals every year, but a new study suggests everyday people could get one.

When presented with a set of decisions to make on government spending and taxes, majorities of voters from both parties were able to agree on steps to reduce the nation’s deficit by $86 billion, according to a study by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation.

When independents were thrown into the mix, the majority of voters agreed to $211 billion in deficit reduction.

“They seem more committed to reducing the deficit than Congress is. They make a lot of hard decision and there’s a lot of bipartisan consensus,” said Dr. Steven Kull, who led the study.

{mosads}The study surveyed 1,817 registered voters reached through mail and telephone to state how much they agree or disagree with various approaches to taxes, spending, and deficits.

It then asked them to go through and make decisions on specific government spending and tax options, choosing whether to increase, decrease, or leave them stable. The results were weighted to match the latest census figures, and had a 2.3 percent margin of error.

In the end, bipartisan majorities agreed on steps that would lead to $86 billion worth of deficit reductions, comprised of $17 billion in spending cuts and $69 billion in new taxes and fees.

But some of the most interesting results came from the partisan breakdowns.

“You do see Republicans raising revenues and Democrats cutting spending,” said Kull.

Far from shying away from tax increases, a majority of Republicans (and Democrats) in the survey supported a 5 percent tax increase for incomes over $200,000.

Bipartisan majorities also supported imposing fees on uninsured debt, taxing ‘carried interest’ compensation and increasing alcohol taxes.

Half of Republicans and a two-thirds majority of overall voters also supported increasing capital gains taxes, even as President Trump called for lowering them. With the support of four in ten Republicans, overall majorities of voters agreed to a carbon tax and an increased corporate rate, while most rejected Trump’s proposal on tax-through entities.

When it came to spending, Democrats were happy to cut but concentrated on defense and related areas.

Republicans were also willing to cut defense, but by significantly less, spreading smaller cuts to a variety of programs to achieve their deficit reductions.

Democrats backed $96 billion in spending cuts compared to $65 billion in cuts backed by Republicans.

Trump’s early budget calls for cutting $54 billion in non-defense discretionary spending and putting that money into defense.

Non-Democrat majorities of those surveyed supported cuts for the State Department, development assistance and energy, albeit on smaller scales than Trump proposed.

While reducing the nation’s deficit by $86 billion would be a good start in tackling the deficit, it would only be a fraction of the $559 billion deficit the Congressional Budget Office projected for 2017.

Moreover, a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office found that the major deficit drivers came from healthcare and retirement spending, neither of which are part of the discretionary budget.

But in previous studies, Kull found areas of agreement in those areas as well. A study on Social Security found large, bipartisan agreement on decreasing shortfalls, while the results of an in-depth study on Medicare are forthcoming.

“People are not highly ideological” when it comes to taking concrete decisions, he said.

“The discourse around the choice of candidates, the choice of parties, is very polarized. But we don’t label these options as Republican and Democratic agendas. If you did, you’d probably get a more partisan response,” he added.



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