Most Americans Blame Wars For Federal Debt; Few Cite Tax Cuts

By a wide margin, more Americans think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have inflated the national debt than the percentage who blame domestic spending or the tax cuts enacted in the past decade for doing the same, according to a Pew poll released Tuesday.

Those beliefs actually run counter to data recently released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which showed that the Bush-era tax cuts have been the single biggest factor in ballooning the federal deficit. While the wars have also contributed greatly to the deficit, Pew’s findings illuminate how Americans more readily perceive the visceral aspects of federal budgetary policy.

And with both parties drawing a line in the sand over whether tax increases should factor into future deficit reduction talks, the Pew report offers some insight as to what proposals will hit home hardest with voters when the messaging war heats up.In the survey, fully six in ten Americans said the wars had contributed “a great deal” to the federal deficit, while an additional 26% said they had contributed a “fair amount.” Meanwhile, 42% said the sour economy had a great deal to do with the debt, and 24% said the same about increased spending on domestic programs. Only 19% said tax cuts had greatly impacted the deficit, while an additional 35% said they had contributed a fair amount.

According to the CBPP, the Bush-era tax cuts by far account for the largest share of the federal deficit. Combined with the Iraq and Afghan wars, those policies will make up around 50% of the overall deficit by 2019, according to CBPP’s figures.

In a reflection of Americans’ perception of how military spending has impacted the debt, the survey also found that 65% of Americans support reducing the nation’s overseas military commitments as a way to reduce the deficit, while 30% oppose such a move. Following the death of Osama bin Laden, a bipartisan group of legislators began pushing for a more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, though the Obama administration has rebuffed those calls.

Further, the poll also found broad bipartisan support for raising taxes on income earned above $250,000 per year. Two-thirds of Americans (66%) support doing that to reduce the deficit, versus 31% who oppose that idea. Democrats were most favorable toward that plan, with 78% voicing support and just 21% saying the opposite. Independents also strongly backed that proposal, doing so by a 67% to 28% margin. And even Republicans are relatively warm to the idea, with an equal 49% both supporting and opposing a tax increase for high-income earners.

The fact even Republicans aren’t necessarily opposed to tax increases over $250,000 could offer Democrats a wedge in deficit talks as they’ve so far insisted that such raises be part of a final deal. Republican lawmakers have flatly balked at such a proposal, repeating the mantra that America has a spending, not a revenue problem.

The Pew poll was conducted May 25-30 among 1,509 adults nationwide. It has a margin of eror of 3.5%.

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