Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Blog

by John Zogby, AAI Board Member

Mark and Sharon are going over their bills. Sharon says they don’t have enough cash flow to pay their bills. Mark says we must cut our spending. Sharon agrees, but adds they must pay their bills and ask their credit card company to increase their limit. Mark again says we must cut our spending. Sharon nods, but explains that if they keep missing their mortgage payments, the bank will foreclose.

“But honey, you’re not listening,” says Mark. “We must cut spending.” They never do agree on what to do, the bank forecloses on their house and Mark and Sharon spend more money they don’t have on a divorce.

That domestic situation is essentially what we see playing out in Washington in the political back-and-forth over raising the debt limit. The ending for all involved, especially the citizenry, could end up as badly as it does for our mythical couple.

I don’t pretend to know how this will play out as the deadline (Aug. 2 or some later date) approaches when the United States doesn’t have money to pay its bills. However, I can look at how voter opinion seems to be moving; and right now, President Barack Obama seems to have the advantage.

That statement comes with a huge caveat. If no agreement is reached and default is as calamitous to the economy as feared, Obama will be held accountable by voters. Presidents always get the blame when things go badly.

The main threat to his re-election next year is not the size of the deficit or the appeal of anyone in the GOP field. Voters are depressed about their economic futures and the prospects of America again becoming a nation where everyone who works hard can succeed. Failure to reach an agreement would also further and fatally undermine one of Obama’s main 2008 themes: that he could help Washington rise above partisanship to solve problems.

Obama always maintains an air of optimism, and tries to keep that appearance up about finding an answer on the debt limit. But it is also quite obvious that both Democrats and Republicans are trying to blame the other party should no agreement be reached. As much as circumstances and consequences allow, Obama has done well to shift the onus on to Republicans.

An IBOPE Zogby interactive poll conducted over the weekend (after Obama’s press conference last week and before his national address Monday night) found both his job approval rating (45%) and the percentage of voters saying he deserves re-election (40%) up several points. Those are still less than a majority, but more important was his significant improvement in match-ups with potential Republicans. Two weeks earlier, seven Republicans were either ahead or statistically tied with Obama. Now he leads them all, and only the unlikely candidate Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey trails by less than the margin of error.

A poll we concluded on July 18 showed voters saying by a slim margin that Obama was being more reasonable than Republicans in the debt limit debate; and 52% said the limit should be raised, twice as many as said that last November.

If anything, events so far this week should put Obama on even better footing with voters.  His TV speech hit the right theme of shared sacrifice. The average person has been on sacrifice overload for some time, and they have come to accept that as part of their lives. Republican refusal to close loopholes and even raise taxes on the wealthy and profitable corporations hits a raw nerve to the person who is cutting back, lost a job or fears it. By contrast, House Speaker John Boehner’s response spoke much more to the GOP base than to beleaguered swing voters.

Most voters want a resolution, so they may not welcome the GOP plan for a temporary debt limit increase that would force us to go through this again before the 2012 election.

There are also signs the GOP’s vaunted unity is under stress. The fact we are having this debate at all when jobs are the voters’ chief concern is a testament to just how effective a united Republican majority in the House has been against Democrats who hold the other two thirds of our elected government.

However, Boehner may not have the votes in his caucus to pass his plan. Official Tea Party groups, the Club for Growth and GOP presidential candidates Michele Bachmann (who leads our polling of announced candidates) and Ron Paul have come out against it, and don’t appear eager to even reach an agreement.  Surprisingly, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform supports Boehner. Also backing Boehner’s proposal is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which very much wants to avoid government default. Should Tea Party Republicans force default and one of its adherents win the nomination, Obama could make the argument to the Chamber that he, not the Republican nominee, is a safer choice for America’s businesses.

It’s been quite the political drama, and let’s hope it ends with the nation no worse off than when it began.

Read the original article on Forbes


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