WASHINGTON -- To get a sense of just how wide the democracy gap is in Washington, compare the various "fiscal cliff" proposals put forward by the two parties to the type of deal that would be struck if the opinions of the American people were genuinely represented.
Over the course of the past two weeks, The Huffington Post has sponsored a series of surveys conducted by YouGov to find out what people think about the offers made by the White House and congressional Republicans, as well as how they feel about some deficit reduction ideas that aren't on the table.
These recent surveys, along with other publicly available polling, reveal a preference for a deal that would, among other elements, raise taxes on the wealthy, avoid changes to Social Security or Medicare that would hit beneficiaries now or in the future, and make some cost-saving entitlement reforms that aren't on the table, such as the hugely popular option to allow Medicare to negotiate for cheaper prescription drugs.
The centerpiece of the public's fiscal cliff plan would almost certainly be letting the Bush tax cuts expire for wealthy Americans. Multiple surveys have found that, by huge margins, Americans favored raising taxes on household income over $250,000 a year. Surveys have also found Americans in favor of increasing taxes on capital gains.
The latest HuffPost/YouGov surveys found that people were also clear about what they don't want in a deal. Americans across the political spectrum opposed even minor cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits, saying by a 52 percent to 25 percent margin that such benefit cuts even for those now under age 55 ought to be off the table. More specifically, Americans opposed changing the way the Social Security cost-of-living increase is calculated or raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 for future beneficiaries.
But according to the HuffPost/YouGov poll, a huge majority of Americans supported allowing Medicare to negotiate cheaper prices on prescription drugs with pharmaceutical companies: By a whopping 73 percent to 7 percent margin, they said that's a good idea. People were also open to reducing Social Security and Medicare spending by means-testing benefits and cutting reimbursements for providers, calling that option a good idea by a 38 percent to 27 percent margin.
Respondents to another recent HuffPost/YouGov poll backed a public health insurance option if it would trim the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office has concluded it could save $25 billion or more in the next 10 years. The survey found that Americans were somewhat incredulous about the idea that adding a public option to health care reform would reduce the deficit, but if they were convinced of the CBO estimate, they would favor the option by a 45 percent to 22 percent margin.
The fiscal cliff deal the public would put together would also extend unemployment insurance benefits (though Americans favored that by only a narrow margin) and the payroll tax holiday, as well as invest heavily in infrastructure.
Voters across the political spectrum backed prison reform -- such as early release or probation instead of incarceration for nonviolent offenders -- as a way to reduce the debt. What people would do with defense spending is less clear: Some recent polls have found opposition to cutting the military budget, while others have shown support.
Despite people's willingness to raise other taxes on the rich, the HuffPost/YouGov survey found Americans opposed to raising the estate tax by a 48 percent to 29 percent margin.
The proposals put forward by both President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans were roundly rejected by respondents to an earlier HuffPost/YouGov poll. The grand bargain that would be put together by the American people doesn't align with either party's vision, but it is significantly closer to that proposed by the president. Not surprisingly, asked to choose between the two proposals, people chose Obama's by 41 percent to 32 percent.
Respondents did not back several ideas popular with progressives, however. People rejected a carbon tax on the burning of fossil fuels as part of a debt deal by 43 percent to 31 percent. (Democrats supported it by 48 percent to 17 percent.) A small tax on stock trades, known as a financial transaction tax, was also rejected by 38 percent to 35 percent. (Democrats favored it by 49 percent to 19 percent.)
The three new HuffPost/YouGov surveys were conducted between Dec. 4 and Dec. 11, using samples of 1,000 adults selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church. The surveys' margins of error range from plus or minus 3.4 percentage points to 4.6 percentage points, though that inherent variation does not take into account other potential sources of error, including statistical bias in the samples.