A new CBS news poll has bad news for Republicans on the debt limit, politician-created crisis: Americans are unhappy with the political class’ performance on the issue but give Republicans ratings so low that they virtually spell out t-r-o-u-b-l-e with the independent voters the GOP will need to win in 2012.
The poll also finds that even many Republicans are not happy about how their party is handling it — reinforcing my growing conclusion that the current brand of Republican conservatives risks backlash from many thoughtful Republicans who could at the very least sit out 2012 if a Presidential candidate seems to be a creature of the Tea Party Movement and what I call the country’s talk radio political culture. The poll:
Americans are unimpressed with their political leaders’ handling of the debt ceiling crisis, with a new CBS News poll showing a majority disapprove of all the involved parties’ conduct, but Republicans in Congress fare the worst, with just 21 percent backing their resistance to raising taxes.
President Obama earned the most generous approval ratings for his handling of the weeks-old negotiations, but still more people said they disapproved (48 percent) than approved (43 percent) of what he has done and said.
So once again we return to the reality: Americans are not happy with Barack Obama’s performance but consider the alternative worse. Or perhaps somewhat in the Twilight Zone. But no matter how it is spun, the poll shows Republicans are not in sync with what Americans want to see in how they are handling the debt ceiling crisis.
CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports there was no visible progress over the weekend, despite warnings from debt rating agencies that the nation’s credit rating could drop, even if there is a deal, if government spending isn’t cut.
Congressional leaders’ inability to convince their own party members that concessions are necessary is likely driving the dismal approval for lawmakers involved in the testy negotiations.
Approval drops to 31 percent for the Democrats in Congress, and only 21 percent of the people surveyed said they approved of Republicans’ handling of the negotiations, while 71 percent disapprove.
Even half of the Republican respondents (51 percent) voiced disapproval of how members of their own party in Congress are handling the talks. Far fewer Democrats expressed disapproval of their own party’s handling (32 percent) or President Obama’s (22 percent) of the urgent quest to raise the nation’s debt limit ahead of a looming default on Aug. 2 if action isn’t taken.
The Obama administration has pointed to the warnings from rating agencies as evidence that not raising the debt ceiling could have severe consequences for the economy, and even suggested the government might not be able to make Social Security payments if there’s no agreement.
However, some remain skeptical; 36 percent said the administration is trying to scare people by painting the potential outcome if the debt ceiling is not raised as more dire than it really is. But slightly more, 40 percent, say the administration’s warnings are valid.
The bottom line: the Tea Party movement GOPers who are claiming a debt ceiling default would be no big deal and hinting it’d be actually good (Obama would supposedly get the blame they say…the government would be forced to slice expenditures) have lost the public debate except on their favorite ideological talk and cable talk shows. And, if there is a default, Republicans will be blamed for the bulk of the consequences at a time when polls show Americans continue to blame George W. Bush more for the lousy economy than Barack Obama.
This perhaps explains Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s efforts to short-circuit Tea Party members’ inclination to refuse any compromise and throw the United States into a debt limit default that could decimate the world economy. Reid Wilson writing in The Atlantic:
McConnell has publicly made the case that a default will have serious negative political fallout for the GOP. In an interview on conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham’s program on Wednesday, McConnell said Democrats “want to blame the economy on us and the reason default is no better an idea today than when Newt Gingrich tried it in 1995 is that it destroys your brand. It would give the president an opportunity to blame Republicans for a bad economy.”
Privately, House Republicans have been driving home the message that a failure to increase the debt ceiling would be a disaster. Sources said Boehner has been “aggressive,” in one aide’s words, in articulating the need to reach a deal. In a presentation to the House Republican Conference on Friday, Jay Powell, a former Under Secretary at the Treasury Department under George H.W. Bush and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, laid out just what would happen if a deal isn’t reached.
On August 3, according to Powell’s presentation, the federal government would be on the hook for $32 billion in committed spending, including $23 billion in Social Security checks, $500 million in federal worker salaries, $1.4 billion owed to Defense Department vendors and $100 million in refunds the IRS owes to businesses. On the same day, the government will take in only $12 billion in revenue, giving the government a $20 billion cash deficit. By August 15, when the federal government is on the hook for a $29 billion interest payment, the cash shortfall will have grown to $74 billion–and possibly more, if interest rates on U.S. debt rises.
The presentation, according to several sources in the room at the time, was aimed at conveying the seriousness of the moment. Recent warnings from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s that they could downgrade the nation’s debt have underscored the danger a default poses. It’s a message Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill have been trying to drive home to their members.
“There are serious repercussions for the country if the debt limit is not raised and it’s important that members have information on what we may be facing. The aim is not to scare anyone but the facts are frightening,” said a top Senate Republican aide. But Republican leadership’s task is far more complicated than simply convincing their members to vote one way or another. Instead, they must convince those members they are getting a good deal, which, given the slow pace of negotiations, is not a saleable pitch right now. “It would be a mistake to believe that any of our leaders will support a deal that is insufficiently aggressive on debt reduction or one that raises taxes,” the House Republican aide said.
McConnell, specifically, has had serious problems with the White House’s initial proposals. …
…For his troubles, McConnell attracted nothing but hatred from the Republican base…Time is winding down before the U.S. reaches the limits of its deficit spending. For Republican leadership, the goals in the critical week ahead will not only be to reach a compromise with the White House, but to lay the groundwork so that their own members accept the eventual deal. Given the reluctance of the membership itself to go along, and the pressure emanating from outside activists, it’s less clear whether it will be harder to reach agreement with Obama
The bottom line is that the Republican party is now rebranding itself — big time.
And polls suggest that many Americans do not like the new brand they are seeing even as they search for a brand better than the Obama brand. Right now it looks like Americans are increasingly concluding that the ineffective Obama brand is preferable to what they suspect is a dangerous Tea Party brand.
And a default will likely provide evidence to them that the Tea Party brand that has become the highest profile Republican brand could be dangerous to the country’s political and economic health when they cast votes in 2012.
That’s something it’s increasingly clear McConnell and other Republican establishment types understand. Americans unhappy with Obama may accept a GOP that has the Tea Party, but many will not accept a GOP run by the Tea Party.
Particularly if Tea Party member actions make a bad economy worse.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.