POLITICS
09/16/2011 12:24 pm ET | Updated Nov 16, 2011

Least Popular Deficit Reduction Measures Pursued By White House, Congress, Poll Shows

WASHINGTON -- Congress and the president are set to reduce the federal deficit in the least popular ways possible, according to data from a new Bloomberg News poll.

The survey, released Thursday and Friday, found that the most popular options for reducing the deficit was cutting Social Security benefits for high-income earners, with 64 percent favoring that idea.

The third and fourth most popular ideas were raising the amount of salary subject to Social Security tax beyond the current $107,000 a year (52 percent) and gradually raising retirement age to 69 (49 percent).

Yet the White House announced Thursday that President Obama would take changes to Social Security off the table when he makes suggestions for finding savings. "There will be no Social Security in the recommendations," said White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage.

On the congressional side, House Republicans have repeatedly declared that raising taxes is a non-starter -- a stance House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reaffirmed in a Thursday speech. Yet, the Bloomberg survey found that repealing the Bush-era tax cuts on households earning more than $250,000 is the second most favored idea, at 54 percent.

What that leaves on the table are deficit-trimming plans that few people like, such as cutting Medicaid and Medicare by targeting providers, cutting back on the military or trimming cost-of-living increases in Social Security.

Cutting Medicaid gets the least support, at 21 percent, with 76 percent opposed. Slightly less despised by the public are cutting payments to Medicare providers, with 66 percent opposition, and cost-of-living cuts in Social Security, with 63 percent opposed.

But Obama's plan for savings released last spring includes extracting about $480 billion from Medicare and Medicaid providers. He and many in Congress also favor achieving COLA cuts by switching the government to a "chained" consumer price index for measuring inflation. Social Security cost-of-living hikes are pegged to inflation, and the chained CPI measures a lower rate of inflation than the current method.

Also high on the disapproval scale are hiking Medicare co-payments (62 percent opposition) and privatizing Medicare (57 percent) -- both of which have been proposed by the GOP.

Another unpopular cut is slashing the military, which 56 percent oppose. That is the default option in deficit-cutting law Congress passed over the summer to hike the debt ceiling. If the Super Congress fails to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in cuts, the law requires $500 billion in cuts to the military.

The insistence of leaders on taking popular deficit-slashing options off the table in favor of unpopular ones may help explain another poll out Friday -- a New York Times/CBS News survey that found only 12 percent of the nation giving Congress a positive rating and just 6 percent of voters saying most members deserve to be reelected.

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