Will the Deficit Matter in 2010?
By Ben Pershing
Politicians have lost elections for raising taxes. They've lost for slashing spending. And they've lost because the economy is in recession. But how many times have they lost because the budget wasn't balanced?
We may find out next year, as the deficit is rapidly becoming the most common and, possibly, the most potent Republican charge against President Obama and his fellow Democrats. In Sunday's Washington Post, Scott Wilson reported that the White House is worried Obama's spending plans "could become a political liability that defines the 2010 midterm elections." In a much-cited piece last week, David Leonhardt wrote in the New York Times that while the current fiscal mess is mostly not Obama's fault, the president "does not have a realistic plan for eliminating the deficit, despite what his advisers have suggested." And a headline in this week's Economist says "America's debt is Barack Obama's biggest weakness."
But does the public care? Or rather, do voters care about the deficit more than they do about fixing the still-sputtering economy, health care, Iraq and whatever other issues have propelled Democrats to commanding victories the last two election cycles? According to Pew, worries about the deficit reached their peak in 1993 and 1994, after Ross Perot's budget-focused presidential campaign and just before Republicans captured Congress pledging to promote fiscal discipline, but such concerns have steadily shrunk in the ensuing years. As of late April, 10 percent of respondents in a CNN poll called the budget deficit "the most important issue facing the country today" while 55 percent cited the economy.
June 15, 2009; 8:30 AM ET
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