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Few Americans Fear 'Economic Catastrophe' If Debt Ceiling Not Raised: Poll

Debt Ceiling

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 07/14/11 12:33 PM ET Updated: 09/13/11 06:12 AM ET

Of the 22 percent of Americans who want the federal government to raise the debt ceiling, less than a third say that "economic catastrophe" would result from not doing so, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.

The poll examines Americans' reasons for why they do or don't want to see the debt ceiling raised. Only 22 percent of Americans want their member of Congress to vote in favor of increasing the debt ceiling, compared with 42 percent who would like their member of Congress to vote against it, a Gallup survey noted on Tuesday.

About a third of those who want the debt ceiling raised -- 32 percent -- said it should be done in order to "avoid economic catastrophe" when asked to give their reasons in an open-ended format. Another 23 percent said it had to be done so as "to not default on debt," 17 percent said it was "necessary" or there was "no choice," and 16 percent said it should be done "to avoid [a] government shutdown" or a "suspension of services/benefits."

By contrast, among the percentage who told Gallup they don't want to see the debt ceiling raised, 38 percent said the U.S. already has "too much debt" and "cannot afford more." Twenty-one percent said the U.S. needs to stop or cut spending, 13 percent said the country "needs to live within its means" and "budget better," and 17 percent said that raising the debt ceiling "does not address [the] problem" and the country would only "keep raising [the] limit in [the] future."

Economic catastrophe is more or less what members of the Obama administration have suggested will happen if the debt ceiling is not raised. In May, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned that if a deal is not struck by the August 2 deadline, and the U.S. defaults on its loans, it could precipitate a market panic "that threatens the health of our entire global economy and the jobs of millions of Americans."

Yet as of Wednesday evening, the issue appears far from resolved. On Wednesday, the president had what reports describe as a contentious and unfruitful meeting with Congressional leaders, in which House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pressed Obama for greater spending cuts while remaining adamant that a deal could not raise tax revenues.

According to Reuters, Wednesday's meeting ended with Obama warning those in attendance, "I have reached the point where I say enough."

While Cantor says a debt ceiling deal could not involve tax increases, nearly three-quarters of Americans are willing to accept some level of tax increases if it means reducing the deficit, Gallup finds.

Only 20 percent of those responding to Wednesday's poll said that they'd like Congress to reduce the deficit entirely through spending cuts, with no tax increases. A combined 73 percent said they would accept either a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, or a plan that relies entirely on tax increases.

Thirty percent said they'd prefer budget reduction to be done "mostly with spending cuts," while 32 percent said they'd like it to happen "equally with spending cuts and tax increases."

The Gallup poll aligns with a number of others in recent months showing public tolerance of tax increases for the sake of deficit reduction. A Pew poll in June found that 66 percent of respondents supported raising taxes on incomes over $250,000, while an Ipsos poll in May found that 61 percent of respondents favored tax increases as a means of getting the national debt down, either accompanied by cuts in existing programs or as the sole means.

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