In the midterm election campaign, a new wave of conservative candidates scored a lot of victories by promising to take the government back. They claim they have a mandate to cut spending, repeal health care reform and shrink the federal government. Recent polls suggest, however, that the new Republican House majority should be a little cautious in claiming that they know what the people want. The latest New York Times/CBS poll found, for example, that only 40% of respondents favored repeal of the Affordable Care Act, with 48% opposed to repeal, and 12% undecided. Even more interesting, however, were the more detailed responses of those who favored repeal. Of that 40%, 14% did not know what parts they wanted to repeal, 11% want to repeal the insurance mandate, 8% want to repeal the whole thing, and hardly anybody wanted to repeal any other specific portion of the law. (These findings are also summarized in Greg Sargent's Washington Post column.) Despite the lack of strong public support for repeal, and despite their criticisms last year of Democrats for supposedly shoving health insurance reform down their throats by use of their Congressional majorities in both houses, House Republicans plowed ahead with little debate and a nearly party-line repeal vote.
Also interesting in the Times/CBS poll were responses to questions about fixing Medicare and Social Security. When asked what should be done about Medicare to help reduce the federal budget deficit, 24% suggested cutting benefits, and a whopping 64% said we should raise taxes. Similarly, when asked how to fix Social Security, only 25% said we should reduce benefits, while 63% said we should raise taxes. Even more dramatic results were reported in a poll done for Daily Kos (ok, I know to my conservative friends that would make the poll suspect--so take your own poll). That poll asked whether people would prefer to raise the income cap for Social Security taxes, or cut benefits and raise the retirement age. An overwhelming majority of 77% favored raising taxes in that scenario. Even of people who identified themselves as Tea Partiers, a whopping 67% favored raising taxes over cutting benefits. Even of the people whose taxes would be raised (those making over $100,000 per year), 72% favored raising their own taxes over cutting benefits and raising the retirement age. Despite these massive majorities opposed to cutting benefits and preferring to raise taxes, Republicans in Congress are discussing only benefit cuts, not revenue increases.
Given these kinds of findings, it is not surprising that the White House came out strongly opposed to raising the eligibility age for Social Security or cutting benefits. It's also not surprising that the president, in the same CBS/New York Times poll, now has a 49% favorable rating (39% unfavorable), while the Republican Party has only a 40% favorable rating. When President Obama speaks to Congress tomorrow, Congressional Republicans should be thinking about whether he or they are more in tune with what the American people want.