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Most Americans appear poised to blame Republicans, not President Obama, if negotiators fail to act in time to avert a "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax increases and spending cuts slated for January, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll.
The new poll finds little confidence that leaders in Washington will reach a deal before the Dec. 31 deadline, and the level of pessimism remains largely unchanged since a similar poll three weeks ago. By nearly 2 to 1, more respondents said Republicans in Congress would be to blame if there is no deal, a lopsided assessment little changed from the earlier poll.
Also relatively unchanged over the last three weeks is the wide concern over the potential economic fallout if there is no agreement. There remains a broad expectation that a lack of agreement will deliver a "major effect" on the economy.
What has changed since the previous poll is that more people are paying attention to the policy battle - two-thirds are following the debate closely - but that has not led to a better informed public. Only 28 percent say they understand "very well" the consequences of missing the deadline, about the same as the 26 percent saying so in the prior survey.
In the debate about how to avert the fiscal cliff, Obama has called for raising tax rates for the wealthy, while congressional Republicans have urged that Bush-era tax cuts be extended for all taxpayers. Numerous polls have shown that raising taxes for high-income households is popular, and that is perhaps the reason that Americans seem inclined to blame the GOP if there is no deal.
Fully six in 10 voters in November supported raising tax rates on income exceeding $250,000, a key Obama campaign position, according to a Fox News exit poll.
After the election, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, signaled an openness to raising revenue from the wealthy by limiting tax deductions, but Republicans have refused to budge on higher tax rates.
Republicans also have pushed for deeper cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Big majorities of Americans say the entitlement programs need major reform, but few are willing to see benefits slashed, except for the wealthy. For example, two-thirds opposed raising the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll this summer found that 77 percent opposed reducing Medicare benefits to cut the deficit; 82 percent opposed cuts to Social Security beneficiaries.