In Debt Ceiling Fight, Congress Has Advantage On The Issues, Obama on Performance

July 18, 2011, 6:30 PM GMT+0

As of Tuesday, July 19, 2011, it’s just two weeks until Debt-ageddon, the August 2 deadline when (according to the Obama Administration’s green eyeshade crew) the Federal government, like a paycheck-to-paycheck householder, has to decide which bills to pay and which to postpone. The whole thing can be avoided, if President Obama signs into law some form of debt-ceiling increase legislation passed by Congress.

As yet, the public remains unconvinced about the need to do so: 33% say Congress should raise the debt ceiling, 42% say they should not, and the key group remains the 25% who are not yet sure what Congress should do. That undecided group will have plenty of opportunities in the next two weeks to hear why it is so important to raise the debt ceiling, or why the ceiling should not be raised, or under what circumstances the debt ceiling should be raised.

Some Republicans will argue the greatest value of the debt-ceiling limit is the leverage it gives them to compel President Obama to accept major Federal government spending cuts. On that score, the Republicans have the upper hand: If the debt ceiling legislation includes spending cuts, 65% would support it, only 7% would oppose it. That makes spending cuts even more popular than closing tax breaks for the wealthy as part of the debt-ceiling deal: If the debt ceiling legislation includes closing tax loopholes employed by the wealthy, 57% would support that, and 16% would oppose it.

Most Democrats feel a debt-ceiling deal should include a “balanced mix” of both spending cuts and revenue enhancements, if not a “clean” debt-ceiling bill that did nothing but raise the debt ceiling. On that score, Democrats have some salesmanship ahead: If the debt ceiling legislation includes tax increases, 32% would support it, 36% would oppose it. That makes tax increases less popular than cutting entitlement programs: If the debt ceiling legislation includes entitlement program cuts, 34% would support it, 25% would oppose it.

What puts the debt-ceiling game on more equal footing is the standing of Obama vs. Congress: Obama’s approval rating is falling but remains at 40% approve and 50% disapprove. But Congress’s own approval rating stands at an historically dismal level: 10% approve, 62% disapprove, while 28% neither approve or disapprove of Congress’s performance or are not sure.

Full datasets for Economist/YouGov polls can be found here.

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