Looking at opinion polls or media coverage, it’s easy to assume that the public is greatly divided over the potential solutions to our unsustainable federal debt trajectory. But a series of public discussion forums organized by the Kettering Foundation in 25 states produced some surprising results. Their new report offers a sense of Americans’ views on this complex issue.
Takeaways from participants include:
- The debt is viewed as dangerous to the country and needs to be addressed. Concerns about the impact on younger Americans were frequently mentioned by older participants.
- There is widespread understanding that reducing the debt will be difficult and that it is impossible to make everyone happy.
- People are concerned about how actions to address the debt will affect their communities and the people they know, especially those who have been affected by the economic downturn and are barely hanging on to middle class status.
- Citizens from different backgrounds were able to have civil, thoughtful discussions about these issues; most were open to a variety of approaches for how to address the debt.
These findings demonstrate significant progress over the past few years in the public awareness and discourse on our nation’s fiscal problem. This greater understanding, however, brings with it expectations and concerns about how elected representatives will address the issue:
- Americans want an explanation of how a major deal would affect the economy
- Providing facts about solutions can be helpful, but it’s more helpful to present choices and discuss trade-offs and the need for change
- There is a high level of frustration and cynicism about Washington
- People want to believe that we have a government that can function effectively
The Bipartisan Policy Center has offered a framework that Congress could adopt before the end of 2012 that would facilitate a broader agreement to address the debt in 2013. A recently updated version of the Domenici-Rivlin plan, which would address key drivers of the debt through reform of entitlements and the tax code, is one possible approach to a grand bargain. To learn more about the forums, read the report: No Easy Way Out: Citizens Talk About Tackling the Debt.