The Compromising Way Forward

In the past few weeks, Democrats and Republicans have offered up competing budget proposals—the Democrats in the Senate, the Republicans in the House—to address the nation’s mounting fiscal challenges.

The two budgets are roughly $1 trillion apart on taxes and $750 billion apart on military spending over the next ten years. They are fundamentally at odds on Medicare and entitlement reform as well as deficit reduction: the Republican plan would balance the budget over the next 10 years, while the Democratic plan reduces the deficit to an amount equivalent to 2.2% of GDP by 2023.

At the same time, the American people are in a profoundly pessimistic and angry mood. The Republican Party’s approval ratings stand at a 20-year low, with 66 percent judging it unfavorably compared to 33 percent favorably. The Democrats are viewed in a more favorable light, but are still not in good stead (43 percent favorable to 53 percent unfavorable).

Fifty-two percent of voters believe the country is off on the wrong track, and 50 percent say the same about the economy. Close to a majority say we will not be able to balance the budget anytime soon.

A new poll that we recently completed for the Campaign to Fix the Debt shows that Americans view the Republican plan favorably by a tepid 46-37 margin. By a broader margin (56-31), they favor the Democratic plan, but neither plan inspired much confidence in our respondents. When we asked whether they thought that either the Democrats or Republicans had a realistic plan to reduce the deficit, just 20 percent said that the Republicans did, while 25 percent said that the Democrats did. But 49 percent believe that neither side has a realistic plan.

Stalemate, gridlock, and lack of public confidence: it all sounds depressingly familiar.

But our poll found that there is a bipartisan, compromise plan in Washington that Americans overwhelmingly support: the revamped Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan.

By an overwhelming margin—80 percent to 8—our respondents support the new Simpson-Bowles plan, which cuts wasteful spending, reforms our outdated tax code, and makes the necessary changes to entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security in order to protect them for future generations of Americans. This plan would reduce our debt by $2.4 trillion.

The plan stood up to scrutiny. When we gave specifics of the plan—including arguments against it that included cuts to Medicare and Social Security—support dropped, but remained between 56 percent and 65 percent favorability. Opposition to the plan never increased above 24 percent.

What does this mean?

It says that the American people are prepared for shared sacrifice to address our fiscal woes—much more than either party has acknowledged in their respective budget plans.

Americans are prepared for both entitlement reform and perhaps even higher taxes. They support limiting tax deductions and sacrificing some of their Medicare and Social Security benefits to ensure that we can balance the budget and reduce our debt and deficit.

But they want these reforms instituted across the board as part of a comprehensive plan. Most of all, they want compromise in Washington.

To date, very few surveys have examined this issue in any great detail, comparing the actual details of the Democratic, Republican, and compromise plan and gauging American attitudes. Our findings offer compelling evidence that, while there is a great divide between the two parties, what the public wants is a clear, bipartisan fix to our nation’s fiscal situation.

The Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan that the Campaign to Fix the Debt has advocated is a clear way forward to avoid another crisis this summer, when the debt ceiling comes up for review again. It is what Americans want, and it is the only viable compromise that will satisfy both the Republican and Democratic agendas.

The time to act on it is now.