Republicans in Washington took a gamble — a wise gamble, they thought at the time. Believing that Barack Obama was vulnerable and that control of the Senate was well within their grasp, they put off tough negotiations on tax and budget issues until after the 2012 elections, believing that they would then have the momentum, the votes and the power to remake the federal government as they saw fit.
They lost that bet, and they’re now having to come to grips with the consequences. The fiscal crisis that they sought has now arrived, and they find themselves at a significant political disadvantage. The results of a new ABC News/Washington Post poll demonstrate why:
By overwhelming margins, Americans support the Democratic position of raising taxes on those making $250,000 and more. (And let’s remember, the proposed increase is hardly draconian. For a couple with $350,000 in taxable income, it would represent a tax increase of $4,600, or 1.3 percent of their income.)
By even larger margins, Americans reject the conservative option of raising the age at which Americans are eligible for Medicare coverage. And while those numbers tell us a lot about why Republicans are having such a hard time selling their argument, worse news lurks deeper in the bowels of that poll:
Even among self-described conservatives, 47 percent support raising taxes on those Americans doing best in this economy. Among those who call themselves very conservative, the number supporting that tax increase is 45 percent. Americans making $100,000 or more support higher taxes on the wealthy by a 15-point margin. Washington Republicans may be playing to the most vocal portion of their base on this issue, but for everybody else, this is a loser.
Raising the Medicare-eligibility age draws even stronger across-the-board rejection. In fact, Republicans and the “very conservative” reject it by the same two-to-one margin as the rest of America. If Republicans in Congress want to make that the hill on which they choose to fight, good luck to them.
The argument in favor of raising the eligibility age of Medicare and Social Security is two-fold. One is purely financial — by putting off the date on which people are eligible, taxpayers save a lot of money. The second is based on the premise that American lifespans are getting longer, which in turn allows us to push the retirement age off.
However, while that is true for upper-income Americans, it is much less true for those on the lower half of the income distribution scale.
For whatever reason, less affluent Americans have not seen the large improvement in lifespan enjoyed by their countrymen. That’s due in part to the more physically demanding nature of the jobs they often fill, in part to less access to health care and in part to lifestyle differences. Whatever the reason, the differential is significant. Lower-income Americans — in most cases people who have worked hard all of their lives — arrive at age 65 in worse physical shape than their counterparts, and for them, deferring retirement is a real hardship.
And as the poll above demonstrates, many in that situation are probably conservative Republican voters.
– Jay Bookman