The left faces a political buzz saw on the debt ceiling

Luke Frans Executive Director, Resurgent Republic
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In his remarks to the Economic Club of New York this week, Speaker John Boehner echoed strong voter sentiment in calling for real spending cuts and budgetary reforms to accompany any debt limit increase.

The national electorate is increasingly concerned about the economy, job growth, and the mounting federal debt, and as result, voters no longer view an increase in the debt limit as an inconsequential, procedural vote.

Yet President Barack Obama and many Congressional Democrats still favor increasing the nation’s credit card without changing behavior, a routine followed 75 times in the past 50 years. While palatable in the past, their solution runs into a buzz saw of voter opposition today.

According to a recent Resurgent Republic/American Action Forum survey, voters strongly oppose giving a blank check to President Obama and want those who control Congress to stop spending money the nation doesn’t have.

An overwhelming 89 percent of voters oppose President Obama’s policy to raise the debt limit without limiting spending. Only 1 in 10 voters support the Obama administration’s “very strong view” in how the debt limit should be increased, a description recently used by the president’s top budget expert.

Along with President Obama, more than half of the House Democratic Caucus staked out the same volatile position last month. In a letter to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, 114 of the 192 House Democrats called for a business-as-usual debt limit increase.

This position is so unpopular with voters that even Democrats can only muster faint support.

Only 1 in 5 Democrats support raising the debt limit without preconditions. In addition, Democrats agree that “any increase in the federal debt limit should be tied to specific cuts in federal spending” rather than “Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling because it is the only responsible thing to do” by 50 to 42 percent.

The intensity among Democrats even favors tying spending cuts to the debt limit increase. More Democrats strongly agree with the conservative argument (31 percent) than strongly agree with the liberal argument (26 percent).

As Resurgent Republic has found many times in prior research, Independents are more aligned with Republicans in this debate. Swing voters favor tying spending cuts to a debt limit increase by 64 to 31 percent. A similar 2-to-1 margin is found when measuring the intensity of Independents on this question (37 to 18 percent).

Many Senate Democrats who face competitive re-election races in 2012 have already distanced themselves from the White House and their House colleagues. They understand that voters view the debt ceiling debate and changing the trajectory of our record debt as the same issue.

In addressing this problem, the Obama administration has yet to move beyond the “extraordinary measures” it will take to avoid hitting the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling set to be reached in early August. Administration officials fail to understand that the national electorate is not looking for extra time to be put on the clock.

Fifty-six percent of voters — including 60 percent of Democrats — are more likely to support a debt limit increase if Congress makes changes to Medicare and Medicaid in order “to make those programs financially solvent for the future.”

Nearly half of voters — including 43 percent of Democrats — are more likely to support an increase if “substantial spending cuts are included in the bill to prevent the country from having to increase the debt limit in the future.”

This debate will unfold in the context of President Obama’s abysmal record on the federal budget and the Democrats’ resounding defeat last November.

President Obama’s unsustainable spending policies have worsened the debt crisis, doubling the debt by 2012 and tripling the debt in 10 years. His job approval ratings on handling the federal budget deficit consistently rank at the bottom of any policy area.

In the midterm elections, voters gave Washington a resounding mandate: rein in reckless, out-of-control spending and create a better environment for lasting job growth. The debt limit debate will measure how well Democrats who still control two-thirds of power in Washington were listening.

So far the Obama administration and many Congressional Democrats have chosen not to view this debate as an opportunity to chart a new path void of perpetual debt limit increases. Meanwhile, the buzz saw of voter opposition grows louder.

Luke Frans is the Executive Director of Resurgent Republic. He previously served as Deputy Director of Political Affairs to President George W. Bush.