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Poll: Americans Want to Reduce Deficit, Without Harming Benefits

Many leery of cuts to Medicare, Social Security

For many Americans, cutting federal spending is the right approach to reducing the federal deficit. But don’t reduce the benefits they’ve come to rely on — and don’t raise their taxes.

This may seem like a dichotomy, but the polling fits right in line with what many lawmakers are asking themselves: How do you reduce federal debt with the least amount of harm?

In a New York Times/CBS poll, 70 percent polled agreed that the U.S. deficit is a "very serious" problem, but didn’t think it was necessary to raise taxes to solve the budget crisis.

The poll, which was conducted Jan. 15-19, surveyed a random sampling of 1,036 adults nationwide. Eighteen percent of respondents were retired, 54 percent were currently employed, 16 percent were out of work and 12 percent were not in the market for work.

The survey also showed that 62 percent preferred the spending-cut approach to lowering the deficit.

Yet when asked about specific cuts, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would rather pay higher payroll taxes than reduce either Medicare or Social Security benefits.

David Leonhardt, Economix blogger for the New York Times, noted: "We want to cut spending. We just don't want to cut the benefits that the spending pays for."

The three programs that make up the bulk of the government's long-term projected debt are Social Security, Medicare and the military.

Fifty-five percent of respondents would rather have the government cut military spending than reduce Social Security or Medicare benefits. Twenty-one percent preferred cuts to Medicare and 13 percent preferred Social Security cuts. Ten percent had no opinion.

If benefits must be reduced, a majority preferred that the burden fall on wealthy Americans.

When asked what changes to Medicare benefits they preferred, 48 percent chose "raising the premiums high-income Medicare recipients have to pay." And 66 percent preferred reducing Social Security benefits for Americans who earned higher incomes.

Other options: Twenty-one percent preferred raising the age of Medicare eligibility; 18 percent chose the same for full Social Security benefits; and 8 percent preferred reducing scheduled benefits for future retirees.

“Protecting Social Security and Medicare, the two fundamental pillars of health and economic security for today’s seniors and future generations, is a critical goal — separate from deficit reduction," said Cristina Martin Firvida, director of economic security for AARP.

"It confirms what our members have been telling us for years," she said. "They know that deficit reduction, while essential, must be about more than just numbers. It must take into consideration the realities of America’s struggling middle class — declining home values, rising health care costs, the fact that half of all workers don’t have access to a 401(k) or other workplace savings account, and declining traditional pensions."

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