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Posted at 1:19 PM ET, 12/13/2010

Why the tax compromise will pass

By Chris Cillizza

For all of the complaints coming from the liberal left about the tax deal cut by President Obama last week, the compromise plan is almost certain to pass Congress in the next few days for one simple reason: it's popular.

Two new national polls out today affirm that political popularity.

In a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, a whopping 69 percent support the tax package -- support that cross party lines with 75 percent of Republicans backing the deal while 68 percent of Democrats and Independents offered their support.

A new Pew poll showed 60 percent supporting it including 62 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents.

The simple reality for Democrats writ large -- and President Obama more specifically -- is that they need a win in the eyes of the American public following a disastrous election that saw the party lose control of the House and lose ground in the Senate.

This is an actual bipartisan compromise -- judging from the polling -- which is the rarest of the rare creatures in Washington these days. Passing a piece of legislation that is supported by somewhere between six and seven out of every ten Americans is a political opportunity that is just too good for President Obama and his party to pass up.

(There are, without question, policy reasons behind the White House's decision to back a compromise -- chief among them the belief that letting tax cuts expire for any income bracket could be detrimental to the economy -- but it's hard to put aside political considerations given what happened at the ballot box six weeks ago.)

That said, passing the bill is not without peril, according to data in each of the polls.

While the overall deal is quite popular, some of its component parts are significantly less so. As Post pollster Jon Cohen notes, less than four in ten support even two of the four major provisions -- extending the Bush-era tax cuts, inheritance tax adjustments, a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits -- contained within the agreement.

The disparity between the popularity of the overall compromise and the far less popular provisions that comprise it suggests one of the two things: people like the good in the bill more than they hate the bad (no matter how they define the good and the bad) or they simply like the idea of Congress compromising on something.

It also suggests that the current high level of support may not be all that deep, meaning that a lack of improvement in the sluggish economy or even a continued sense of malaise about the current state of the country's financial situation could turn the compromise into a political liability in two years time when the Bush tax cuts extensions run out (again).

The biggest political danger in the bill centers on the debt. In the Pew poll, just 26 percent say the tax package will help the budget deficit while 46 percent say it will hurt it. (That is a stark contrast to the optimism elicited on questions about whether the plan will help the U.S. economy and "people like you" in the Pew data.)

Of course, all of those concerns are long-distance political ones and are dependent on a number of variables including the state of the economy in two years time.

For a party struggling to regain its footing after a very difficult election, however, it's the short-term victory that Democratic strategists are after.

You can bet that the numbers from the Post/ABC and Pew polls will find their way into wavering Democratic lawmakers inboxes over the next 24 hours.

This is a win the White House must have. And, at present, it looks like they are going to get it.

By Chris Cillizza  | December 13, 2010; 1:19 PM ET
Categories:  White House  
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