Commentary Magazine


Poll: Public Would Blame GOP for Fiscal Cliff Talks’ Failure

The latest CNN/ORC poll finds a plurality would blame congressional Republicans if no agreement is reached before the U.S. hits the so-called fiscal cliff:

Forty-five percent surveyed in a new CNN/ORC poll said they would blame congressional Republicans if there is no agreement, with 34 percent pointing the finger at Obama.

Two-thirds say the U.S. would experience serious problems if the combination of tax rate increases and automatic spending cuts expected in January take effect.

One in four says the country would experience a crisis, with 44 percent expecting major problems if a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff is not found. One in four says the fiscal cliff would cause minor problems, with 7 percent saying there would not be any consequences.

Seventy-seven percent of Americans believe their personal situation would be affected if the U.S. fell over the cliff.

Republicans will go into the negotiations at a disadvantage, since they have more of an incentive to cut a deal to avoid public backlash. But is the public more likely to blame Republicans because it disagrees with their positions, or because it has come to associate the party with obstructionism? Maybe a little of both. According to exit polling, a plurality of voters favor tax hikes for Americans making over $250,000 a year. But over the last three years the GOP has also been branded, unfairly, as the party of no compromises. I say unfairly not because Republicans are particularly open to compromise, but because Democrats are just as rigid. In fact, a growing number of liberal Dems claim they’d rather jump off the fiscal cliff than make concessions:

A growing bloc of emboldened liberals say they’re not afraid to watch defense spending get gouged and taxes go up on every American if a budget deal doesn’t satisfy their priorities.

Here’s what these progressives fear: an agreement that keeps lower tax rates for the wealthy, hits the social safety net with unpalatable cuts and leaves Pentagon spending unscathed. In other words, they’d rather walk the country off the cliff than watch President Barack Obama cave on long-held liberal priorities. …

If tax rates snap back to the higher levels from the 1990s and painful budget cuts start to hit the Pentagon, these Democrats — led by Washington Sen. Patty Murray — believe they would wield more leverage over the GOP to enact a budget compromise on their terms. And with a January deal, Republicans would technically avoid violating the no-new-taxes pledge that most of them have signed because they would then be voting to cut taxes.

Liberals see little downside to this scenario. Going off the cliff would trigger devastating defense cuts, which the left would love. And when tax rates would go up across the board, the public would blame the GOP for failing to reach a deal. But don’t expect to hear the media bemoaning destructive Democratic brinkmanship anytime soon.