House Republicans are counting on broad public support of their substitute stimulus provisions to deflect the political heat that could come from opposing a stimulus package backed by an overwhelmingly popular president.
In crafting their substitute, the GOP polled the specific elements of their proposal to take the temperature of the American public and also polled attitudes toward tax cuts and spending. Across class, race and political leaning, Americans favor tax cuts as way to stimulate the economy rather than spending increases, their poll of 1,000 likely general election voters found.
It was conducted Jan. 14th and 15th by McLaughlin & Associates and provided to the Huffington Post by the House Minority Whip's office.
Despite the polling, the stimulus itself - which contains more spending than tax cuts - is broadly popular. The challenge for Republicans, as they see it, is to decouple the stimulus bill from Obama, who polled at 71 percent popularity in their poll and roughly equal numbers elsewhere. Voters, asked if they support a stimulus backed by Obama, overwhelmingly say that they do, despite opposing large elements of it when asked about it in particular.
Voters broke 61 to 30 in favor of tax cuts over spending. Even self-identified liberals slightly favored tax cuts. The wording of the question: "Which do you believe is the best way to stimulate the economy and create jobs? Cut taxes for business and individuals to create jobs. OR, Increase federal spending for government programs to create jobs?"
A House Democratic aide, told of the polling numbers, was unimpressed "They are also arguing the policies of the last eight years should be continued. Poll that," he suggested.
Specific elements of the GOP's plan, however, polled very highly. Small business tax cuts polled the highest, at 82 percent in favor.
A proposal to cut everyone's taxes by 500 dollars was backed by two-thirds of Americans. The GOP has proposed that the lowest two tax rates be cut from 15 and 10 percent to 10 and five percent.
Republicans also suggested eliminating federal income taxes on unemployment benefits. Two-thirds of Americans thought that was a fine idea.
A $7,500 home-buyer credit for people that put down a five-percent down payment was less popular but still polled at 61 percent, as did a provision that would pledge not to pay for the spending with future tax hikes. That provision is aimed at preserving former-President Bush's tax cuts from 2001 and 2003.
"The American people know that deficits and wasteful spending that our children and grandchildren will have to pay for are the wrong course for this nation. The polling shows what we have known since Eric came to Congress, that the Republican principles of protecting the Middle Class and empowering and creating small business works," said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), in an e-mail.
"What the polling shows is that a popular president is putting his name behind an unpopular plan devised by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Democrats in Congress."
The polling highlights a challenge for Democrats. As they seek to marshal government resources to turn the economy around, they confront public animosity for the general concept of spending on government programs, even if specific programs -- Medicare, transit funding, education, etc. -- are broadly proper.
Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, tried to focus attention on what the GOP plan doesn't do and who benefits from it. "The Republican substitute cuts nearly all forms of assistance to middle-class families struggling during the downturn," said Rangel. "It gives $48 billion in tax cuts to those who are prospering even in this economic downturn, lobbyists on K Street, lawyers, and high-paid professionals, while denying critical assistance to the people who work for them."
Yet despite the high poll numbers, Republicans are still pressing up against the weight of public opinion. President Obama's approval rating is in the stratosphere and the stimulus is widely backed. (The House crafted its own stimulus package but Obama has expressed support for it.) And a recent poll finds House Speaker Nancy Pelosi twice as popular (42 percent) as Republican Minority Leader John Boehner (22 percent).
Dozens of House Republicans currently represent districts that backed Obama in the 2008 election and a vote against the stimulus could hurt them in 2010. "There are a lot of provisions in this bill they've supported in the past, especially the business tax incentives," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"I would hope they would heed the President's call for a bipartisan approach to the big issues that confront the country: the economy and foreign policy. But the vote on the economic recover package may be an early test of just that."