Two-thirds of Americans believe the government should spend any federal budget surplus rather than cut taxes or pay off part of the national debt, according to a poll released Thursday.
Younger people want the money used for social programs and older Americans say use it to fix Social Security and Medicare, The Pew Research Center poll found.
“It’s not that the American public doesn’t want a tax cut, but the public is very cynical about tax cuts. They wonder if the tax cut is really meant for them or those rich people,” said Pew director Andrew Kohut. “If you offer them the choice of spending on education or fixing Social Security and Medicare, that’s what they ask for.”
Pew’s telephone survey of 1,218 adults 18 or older was taken Jan. 14-18. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
With forecasts of a $660 billion budget surplus in the next decade, Republican leaders in Congress have proposed using much of the money for tax cuts and debt reduction. But only 11 percent of Americans polled said they would prefer a tax cut to spending the surplus, and just 22 percent wanted to pay down the national debt.
Both Republicans and Democrats have said they want do something soon to ensure Social Security and Medicare will be able to pay benefits through the approaching retirement of the baby boomers. Thirty-two percent of Americans favor putting the budget surplus toward this goal, with people over 50 most supportive, according to the Pew poll.
About the same proportion of people, 33 percent, said they want to see the money spent on other domestic problems, such as health, education and the environment.
President Clinton, in his State of the Union address next week, is expected to propose modest new spending on social programs.
Clinton’s plan to offer tax credits to help working parents with the cost of child care had the support of 71 percent of those polled. New government spending on child care, which the president has also proposed, is favored by 63 percent.
People are less enthusiastic about the president’s idea to let some people ages 55 to 64 buy into Medicare early. Fifty-six percent of Democrats said they support it, while Republicans are about evenly split, with 48 percent against and 46 percent for it. People under 65 who stand to benefit are more supportive than senior citizens already covered by Medicare.
Overall, Americans ranked education, crime, Social Security, Medicare and health care reform as their top five priorities for Congress and the president this year.
Looking toward fall, when the entire House and a third of the Senate will be up for re-election, people said they prefer Democrats as candidates to Republicans, 51 to 41 percent. On the other hand, 66 percent said they would like to see their own representative re-elected in 1998 - a sentiment that could work in Republicans’ favor, since they currently hold a majority of seats in Congress.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: PRIORITIES Overall, Americans ranked education, crime, Social Security, Medicare and health care reform as their top five priorities for Congress and the president this year.
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