Don’t Forget Debt, When Dealing With Big-Ticket Items: Survey

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By Jonathan Nicholson

Lawmakers should not forget the nearly $20 trillion national debt as they craft policies on big-ticket items like overhauling the tax system or making changes to the health-care system, according to recent polling commissioned by an anti-deficit group.

The data appears to run somewhat counter to conventional political wisdom in Washington now, where Republicans debate whether big tax changes should be revenue-neutral or not and Democrats say the one issue they might agree on with the White House would be increased spending on transportation projects.

But in polling commissioned by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, broad majorities of registered voters said they expected those kinds of issues to have an impact on the national debt and that it was important the issues be addressed “to make progress on the debt.”

‘Strong Connection’

The survey asked voters about their feelings on overhauling the health-care and tax systems, immigration, infrastructure, national security and jobs and the economy and how those policies might interact with the national debt. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said policies to provide jobs and boost the economy would either have a major or some impact on the debt, the highest of any of the issues polled. Immigration polled as having the lowest expected impact, but still saw 70 percent of respondents saying it would have a major effect or some impact.

Ninety-one percent of poll respondents said jobs and economic growth policies should be addressed with an eye toward their impact on the debt, with 69 percent saying it was “very important.” The overall number for health care was almost as high, with 87 percent saying addressing it to make progress on the debt was very or somewhat important. On revamping the tax system, the number was only slightly lower, at 86 percent.

“These results make clear that voters across party lines make a strong connection between the national debt and the legislative agenda,” said Peterson Foundation President and CEO Michael Peterson in a statement. “As the President and Congress debate key issues like tax reform, healthcare and infrastructure spending, they stand a much stronger chance of receiving broad public support if their proposals make progress on the debt.”

Little Variation

Infrastructure and immigration were the issues voters were least concerned with addressing in a way that also made progress on the debt, with 83 percent and 72 percent, respectively, who felt that was important.

There was generally little party or demographic variation among polled groups within the 1,004-person sample. The biggest party difference was seen on immigration. While 54 percent of Republicans polled said it was “very important” it be dealt with in a way that made progress on the debt, that feeling was shared by only 36 percent of Democrats polled.

The survey of registered voters was conducted from March 20-23 by Global Strategy Group and North Star Opinion Research by phone, with 37 percent of respondents using cell phones and the rest landlines. The margin of error was 3.1 percentage points.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Nicholson in Washington at jnicholson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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