The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
Pardon me for being confused. Two weeks ago, voters turned the Senate and several state houses over to Republicans and increased the GOP majority in the House. Now, in a new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, (firewall) Americans have firmly embraced—a Democratic agenda.
They want more government spending on roads and Ebola, They want to raise the minimum wage and lower the cost of student loans. And they want to address climate change by limiting carbon emissions.
The don’t want to: Raise the Social Security retirement age, reduce Medicare benefits for high-income retirees, lower corporate tax rates, cut funding for the Affordable Care Act, or enact new trade agreements. The only Democratic issue that does not have strong public support is the one with the highest profile these days: immigration.
Yet, a majority of those surveyed are happy about the results of the election and want Congress to take a lead role in setting policy. And, by 2-1, they want the parties to work together.
In other words, they want congressional Republicans to pass a mostly-Democratic agenda. Or, to put it another way, the want a liberal government with fewer liberals.
You can take a couple of messages from this.
First, the politics: Democrats did a terrible job selling their own agenda. And they were trumped by Republicans who did a great job convincing voters that the GOP could do a better job governing.
Second, the policy: Congressional Republicans need to be very careful not to overreach and read the election as a public cry for a conservative agenda. They would do well to pick items off this wish list, such as highway funding, and seek a consensus. It really is a great time to raise the gas tax.
For their part, Democrats need to find their own positive agenda. The public is not interested in gauzy rhetoric about income inequality. It wants a government that can help them feel safe and secure, and it does not feel it has that now.
And both parties need to walk a very fine line on fiscal issues. With the deficit falling, the public seems uninterested in entitlement reform and, to the contrary, appears to crave new spending. If anything, it seems to want bigger government. Tax cuts seem nowhere on its agenda.
But this view is always transitory. If the U.S. economy slows along with the rest of the world’s, the deficit will start to rise and again become an issue.
For lawmakers, then, the election results and this seemingly inconsistent poll map some treacherous waters. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to have his finger on the public’s pulse when he urges compromise on a handful of modest issues. But does he mean it? And can he deliver in Washington still-polarized atmosphere?
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