Americans strongly reject Medicare cuts and broadly support higher taxes on the wealthy, underscoring the political risks in Republican debt-reduction plans. And on one key factor in the debate -- protecting the middle class -- President Obama retains the upper hand.
Those and other results from the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll underscore the hazards of the federal spending debate for Republicans as well as for Obama. As poorly as the president is rated for handling the deficit -- just 39 percent approve -- the Republican leaders in Congress do a bit worse, with just 33 percent approval on the same issue.
Similarly, while just 42 percent approve of Obama's handling of the economy overall, fewer still, 34 percent, approve of how the Republicans in Congress are dealing with it. And the public by a 12-point margin trusts Obama to protect middle-class Americans, a theme he's likely to sound loudly and often as the 2012 election campaign warms up.
The poll, conducted for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds that 65 percent of Americans oppose changing Medicare to a system in which the government would give seniors vouchers with which to buy private insurance. Opposition was essentially the same in a Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health survey when the idea came up 15 years ago.
The Republican budget plan includes what's been widely described in news reports as a voucher or voucher-like system, though its author, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has maintained that it's not a voucher system, because subsidies would go directly to insurance companies, from which seniors could pick from a menu of plans.
The language may matter, in that even most Republicans, 56 percent, oppose Medicare vouchers, as do more than seven in 10 Democrats. And opposition soars to 84 percent of all Americans, including nearly three-quarters of Republicans, if government payments failed to meet the full cost of seniors' insurance coverage.
Most Americans also differ with the dictum of Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House speaker, who ruled out tax increases to cut the deficit last week, saying, "Washington does not have a revenue problem. Washington has a spending problem." In this poll, instead, 59 percent favor a mix of spending cuts and tax increases (or, for 3 percent, higher taxes alone) to address the deficit. Fewer, 36 percent, back spending cuts alone, though that is up 5 points from last month, chiefly among wealthier and very conservative Americans, two comparatively tax-adverse groups.
CUT? -- And what to cut is hardly a simple matter. Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and military spending consume nearly two-thirds of federal spending. But 78 percent in this survey oppose cuts in Medicare in order to address the federal debt (indeed 65 percent "strongly" oppose it); 69 percent oppose cuts in Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor (52 percent strongly); and fewer, but still 56 percent, oppose cutting military spending.
Far more popular is taxing people perceived as being most able to pay: Seventy-two percent support achieving debt-reduction by raising taxes on people with household incomes more than $250,000 a year. That again counters the GOP position, and works for Obama, who last week ruled out another extension of tax cuts for better-off Americans.