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Hanna: Public Way Ahead of Politics on Debt Ceiling

The Treasury secretary contends that Congress must raise the debt limit before Aug. 2 or the United States will not be able to meet all of its obligations, severely damaging the domestic economy.

The American public is not persuaded by such a statement.

In late June, OnMessage Inc. conducted a nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters (with a 3.1-point margin of error) on behalf of Let Freedom Ring for the Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge coalition to test voter attitudes on spending and compare potential plans for the debt limit.

The polling shows that voters are unambiguous on what they are willing to accept.

Sixty percent oppose raising the debt ceiling. Other polls have shown that figure to be as high as 70 percent. While comparisons between the debt limit fight and the recent government shutdown debate are easy, there is one clear difference: The public wanted the government to stay open. Conversely, it does not want the debt limit raised.

Every presidential, Senate and House candidate should tread carefully. Half measures will not satisfy a public fed up with typical Washington deal-making in general and the wisdom of raising the debt ceiling in particular. Voters need to be convinced that whatever deal is reached will bring permanent reform, not another temporary fix.

Democrats are demanding revenue and tax increases be included in any deal, but the voting public does not support such an argument. Our survey found that when asked about the cause of the current fiscal crisis, 56 percent said it was due to “too much government spending,” while only 22 percent said “some Americans don’t pay enough in taxes.” The breakdown among independents mirrors the overall numbers, but among Democrats, it’s tied: 37 percent for spending and 37 percent for taxes. Even among their base, Democrats aren’t in favor of raising taxes.

More specifically, we wanted to test whether the public supports the Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge, which requires:

1) Passage of substantial cuts in spending that will reduce the deficit next year and thereafter.

2) Passage of enforceable spending caps that will put federal spending on a path to a balanced budget.

3) Passage of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution — but only if it includes both a spending limitation and a super-majority for raising taxes, in addition to balancing revenues and expenses.

Our coalition of more than 60 organizations and 130 tea party groups is asking lawmakers to pledge to not even consider voting for a debt limit increase unless this plan is passed. To date, six GOP presidential candidates — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) — are supporting our plan, as well as 12 Senators, 26 House Members and more than 100,000 citizens, all of whom signed our pledge.

Our survey showed that the Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge has strong majority support. The cut piece is supported by 69 percent to 20 percent (including 56 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents), and the cap piece is supported by 66 percent to 17 percent (including 57 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents).

But the survey’s finding on a balanced budget amendment was the most striking: 81 percent support such an amendment, while 13 percent oppose it. Democrats support it by 74 percent to 18 percent and independents by 81 percent to 14 percent.

The public supports a strong balanced budget amendment, such as S.J.Res. 10, which is co-sponsored by all 47 Senate Republicans and authored by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), 62 percent to 20 percent. Republicans recently announced that a vote will occur this month on a balanced budget amendment in both chambers.

Asked to choose between the three publicly proposed options for raising the debt limit, voters chose the Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge by more than 2-to-1 over the plan proposed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), $2 trillion to $3 trillion in cuts for $2 trillion in increases, and by more than 5-to-1 over the “clean” debt limit increase, which is favored by President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats and has no spending cuts or budget reforms.

The public believes two things: First, Congress must not continue to spend money without making fundamental, permanent changes — and cuts alone do not meet that test. Second, the Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge is supported by a majority of Americans, including Democrats.

These two messages need to be urgently sent to Capitol Hill.

The Congressional Budget Office recently forecasted a rapidly worsening fiscal crisis. It now projects that this year’s debt as a percentage of the gross domestic project is 70 percent, increasing to 109 percent by 2023 and 190 percent by 2035.

America’s fiscal situation is grave and deteriorating.

Bold reform that creates permanent change is required. We may never have this opportunity again.

Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring, which is a member of the Cut, Cap, Balance coalition and a 501(c)(4) public policy nonprofit organization.

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