By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
As Congress and the White House struggle to cobble together a budget deal, Americans don't feel particularly confident that either side has the right answers.
In a new ABC News/Washington Post poll out today, just 43 percent of Americans approve of the way President Obama is handling the economy, though more Americans say they trust Obama (46 percent) on the issue than Republicans in Congress (34 percent). http://abcn.ws/gpFL1H
What's more, by a 9-point margin Americans now see Obama as better able to handle the deficit than GOP lawmakers in Congress. That represents an 11-point drop for the GOP since December — a period when Republicans have made cutting federal spending a centerpiece of their agenda.
And here’s another interesting fact, according to ABC polling analyst Gary Langer: “The drop in trust to handle the economy has occurred chiefly among independents, now drawing away from the GOP after rallying to its side. As recently as January, 42 percent of independents preferred the Republicans in Congress over Obama to handle the economy. Today just 29 percent say the same, and there's been a rise in the number who volunteer that they don't trust either side.”
But, on the issue of who they trust to “find the right balance between cutting government spending that is not needed and continuing government spending that is needed” voters are evenly split giving Obama 43 percent and Republicans in Congress 42 percent.
And while just 28 percent of Americans in the new poll believe the stimulus helped the national economy — the lowest it's been since June of 2009 — just 41 percent say that cuts in federal spending will create jobs while 45 percent think it will cut jobs.
BOTTOM LINE: Voters want results, not rhetoric. And, they don't see that either side is delivering. Moreover, Americans, unlike many in Washington, aren't dogmatic about their approach to solving our fiscal woes. When asked best way to fix deficit, just 31 percent said “cutting federal spending,” just 3 percent picked “raise taxes” while a whopping 64 percent picked a “combination of both.” The basic message: neither side has a winning hand. So, trying to win this fight on “voter mandate” is a sure loser.
NOTES FROM THE POLL. From ABC’s Gary Langer:
* The public by a 14-point margin says it's more apt to hold the Republicans than Obama responsible if the budget impasse forces a partial government shutdown.
* Only 26 percent of Americans say they're optimistic about "our system of government and how well it works," down 7 points since October. Almost as many — 23 percent — are pessimistic, the closest these measures have ever come.
* Just 31 percent now say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting — a new low. Sixty-four percent call it not worth fighting, and 49 percent feel that way "strongly.”
* President Obama’s job approval rating stands at 51 percent, with 45 percent disapproving, probably about as good as it can get in this kind of economy.
* Congress has just a 27 percent approval rating; it's received less than 30 percent approval continuously since July 2008.
* More than half of Americans, 53 percent, say the economy has not yet begun to recover; 46 percent think recovery has begun. http://abcn.ws/gpFL1H
2012 WATCH: BARBOUR IN IOWA. Are Haley Barbour and his political team ready for prime time? And just how serious is the Mississippi governor about running for president? We may have clearer answers to both questions today after Barbour briefly interrupted an important two-day trip to Illinois and Iowa to accept the resignation of his spokesman, Dan Turner, turner last night. Turner, a former reporter who joined the governor’s office in 2008, quit his job on Monday after e-mail messages came to light in which he made humorous comments about the disaster in Japan as well as former Attorney General Janet Reno’s gender, among other things. Barbour’s office as well as a representative from his political action committee circulated a brief statement Monday night noting the development.
On one hand, the incident offers a glimpse at a potential presidential campaign operation still getting its bearings under an already bright spotlight of media attention. (Awkwardly, Barbour took a phone call about the resignation in between events with voters and political leaders shortly after arriving in Sioux City, Iowa last night.) On the other hand, if there was any doubt that Barbour is serious about running, he seems to be sweeping it away this week. He gave a campaign-style speech in Chicago yesterday, has another one planned in Iowa tonight night and wasted no time dismissing his aide. http://abcn.ws/euHeIL
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Karen Travers interview Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who has been calling for a tax on millionaires and to strip tax deductions for oil companies — a proposal he says would cut the deficit by about $50 billion. Also on the show: Jonathan Martin, a senior political reporter at Politico. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
TOP LINE REPLAY: STEVE KING. The GOP member of Congress from Iowa told “Top Line” yesterday he wants to cut off funding for President Obama’s health care law as a condition for keeping other government funding in place. “We have a leverage point, and it is the funding for the government for the balance of the fiscal year 2011,” King said. “This is the place to pitch the fight.” If such a stance brings about a partial government shutdown, it would be Democrats’ fault, King said: “If we shut off the funding to implement Obamacare and the Senate or the president refuses to go along with it, that is their decision, not ours.” http://abcn.ws/erGedl (h/t ABC News’ Kristina Bergess)
JAPAN UPDATE. Teams of ABC News reporters are on the ground in Japan where the threat of radiation exposure rose Tuesday following an explosion and fire at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Full coverage of the crisis: http://abcnews.go.com/International/Pacific_Disaster/
ON THE HILL: Though the Senate will open debate on a small business bill today, the issue on everyone’s minds is government funding, which is set to run out by the end of Friday. ABC’s Matthew Jaffe notes that House Republican leaders have proposed another short-term measure that would cut spending by $6 billion and buy lawmakers three more weeks while they try to hash out a long-term deal.
Judging by how Senate Democrats reacted to the proposal late last week, it looks like they will back the stop-gap bill. But now it's Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Jim Jordan who are suddenly starting to oppose it. In response to their opposition, the Senate's number-three Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said it shows that "Tea Party lawmakers are unwilling to accept anything short of the extreme cuts in the House budget, even if it risks a shutdown." Despite the conservative rebellion, the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, on Monday expressed confidence that the short-term measure will pass. But there’s still a lot more negotiating to go on the long-term front.
GEN. PETRAEUS TESTIFIES. “The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is facing an impatient and frustrated Congress, balancing his troops' solid progress in combat with worries about Kabul government corruption, an expected Taliban resurgence this spring and the slow development of Afghan security forces. Gen. David Petraeus on Tuesday was to deliver his first formal assessment to Congress, returning to Washington for the first time since he took over as battlefield commander nine months ago,” according to the AP. “And he is expected to tell lawmakers that forces can begin to withdraw this summer as planned. The Taliban's momentum ‘has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas,’ Petraeus said in prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press. He said that success, while fragile, will allow officials to recommend that the U.S. and NATO begin shifting control of several provinces to the Afghan security forces this spring.” http://yhoo.it/f3dH2Z
SOCIAL SECURITY TUG OF WAR AT THE WHITE HOUSE. “Social Security reform is splitting President Obama’s economic and political advisers,” The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports. “Obama is being pulled in opposite directions by those whose priorities are fiscal and those whose No. 1 concern is electoral. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Sperling’s deputy, Jason Furman — leading figures in the president’s economic team — are pressing Obama to cut Social Security benefits if necessary, say sources familiar with their positions. But Obama’s political team, led by David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Jim Messina, are urging the president to understand that backing benefit cuts could prove disastrous to his 2012 reelection hopes, sources say. The political team is winning the argument so far, but internal debate rages at the White House as Republicans in Congress insist sweeping efforts to restore government finances must include Social Security reform.” http://bit.ly/gzO72v
MOVE ON SUPPORTERS MOBILIZING. The liberal advocacy group, MoveOn.org has planned a day of political action today with more than 220 rallies scheduled across the country “to protest against the national Republican plan to slash vital services in the federal budget and cut over 700,000 jobs,” according to a statement from the group. The event comes on the heels over the friction between Republican leaders and Democrats as well as organized labor in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere. “Today’s events are part of a massive mobilization of working Americans across the country who are tired of corporations and millionaires getting tax cuts on the backs of the middle class,” Justin Ruben, Executive Director of MoveOn.org, said in a statement. “Wisconsin was just the beginning. We are seeing an energy in progressive activism not seen in years. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are standing up coast-to-coast to defend the American Dream and say enough is enough.” http://bit.ly/eKUVVe
NRA RESPONDS TO OBAMA. “The heads of the National Rifle Association wrote to President Obama Monday, taking issue with his op-ed in the Sunday Arizona Daily Star, in which he said that since the tragic shooting in Tucson perhaps another 2,000 Americans have been lost to gun violence,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “The president pushed for states to provide better data to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and suggested ‘an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to sellers.’ The heads of the NRA responded to the president’s op-ed on gun issues, saying, ‘to focus a national dialogue on guns – and not criminals or mental health issues – misses the point entirely.’ The problem is not gun laws, they say, but rather lax law enforcement, a sensationalist media and deficiencies in the mental health system.” http://abcn.ws/fMJR5
TRUMP ADVISER PUSHES BACK AGAINST PRIVATE PLANE ALLEGATIONS. An employee of real estate mogul Donald Trump denied on Monday that he did anything improper by using a private jet to travel to Iowa earlier this month to meet with political operatives and activists to discuss the possibility of a Trump presidential run. Michael Cohen, an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, pushed back against criticism that the use of the jet, owned by Trump, violated election laws — an allegation that has been raised in media accounts as well as in an official complaint filed recently with the Federal Election Commission.“Numerous press articles have been circulated questioning the alleged violation of FEC rules/regs stemming from my usage of one of Mr. Trump’s aircrafts used on my trip to Iowa,” Cohen said in a statement to ABC News. “For the record, which I hope will be the last I hear of this nonsense, no FEC rules/regs have been violated as my trip was not for Mr. Trump but as the co-creator of ShouldTrumpRun.com. ShouldTrumpRun.com is an independent Web site paid for by myself and Stewart Rahr.” On Monday a Ron Paul supporter Shawn Michael Thompson filed an official complaint with the FEC asserting that Cohen had violated regulations by using the personal jet. http://abcn.ws/ggNhcL
WHITE HOUSE TODAY: President Obama will spend the day in meetings and events at the White House. In the morning, he will have a series of local TV interviews "on the importance of education reform and the need to fix No Child Left Behind,” according to ABC’s Sunlen Miller. On Monday Mr. Obama called on Monday for Congress to send him a bill with "fixes" before the start of the next school year to reform the law. In the afternoon, President Obama meets with Vice President Joe Biden and later with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Obama also welcomes to the White House the student finalists for the Intel Science Talent Search 2011 and tonight, he and the Vice President host a dinner Combatant Commanders and spouses in the Blue Room. http://abcn.ws/fbb3mu
@Reuters: FLASH: Japan reactor operator: May pour water through holes in no.4 reactor building into spent fuel pool
@OKnox: US public's deeply eroded Afghan War support means interesting mid-March US House vote on Rep Kucinich resolution to end the war
* Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour will deliver the keynote address at the Scott County GOP's Chairman's Dinner in Quad Cities, Iowa tonight.
* Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum will be on the Charlie Sherman Show on WGIR radio at 6:40 AM. At 7:30 AM he will have breakfast with Manchester area business leaders in Bedford, New Hampshire. Santorum will be in Concord, New Hampshire to attend the 9th Annual New Hampshire Capital St. Patrick's Day Corned Beef and Cabbage Lunch and Roast.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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