Poll: Most Americans want payroll tax extension

WASHINGTON-December 16, 2011 It's the latest instance in which lawmakers on Capitol Hill have allowed partisan sniping to hold up a measure to put in place a policy that most Americans support, like ending the Bush tax cuts, cap and trade, and a surcharge on millionaires.

The dragged-out debate over whether to extend an expiring payroll tax reduction is one of many developments that have kept voters furious with their leaders all year. On the brink of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, virtually all Americans are disappointed and frustrated with the political scene and nearly 6 in 10 say they are angry, the AP-GfK survey showed.

"It seems like there are parties that only want to get their agenda done," said liquor store owner James Jacobsen, 47, of East Hartford, Conn. "They're catering to special interests and not Americans. They are not representing the individual American."

Nearly 6 in 10 respondents say they want Congress to pass the extension, according to the poll. Letting the payroll tax break expire would cost a family making $50,000 about $1,000.

Yet, Republicans and Democrats are rejecting each other's proposals and trying to make law from what's left, a tactic they've used all year on debates over the budget and the nation's debt. The stalemates have caused a decline in confidence so severe that 15 percent of all adults and 32 percent of political independents say they don't trust either party to manage the federal budget deficit.

Retired postal worker Larry Collier wishes Congress would get on with what help it can give - an assurance to 160 million American workers that their payroll tax cut will be extended through 2012.

What really galls him is the inequality: The same Congress hesitating to keep taxes low for working Americans also is hesitating to raise them on the wealthy. Congress this year ignored President Barack Obama's proposal to let expire tax cuts on the richest Americans and impose additional taxes on those who make more than $1 million, though polls showed most people supported those policies.

"Those millionaires wouldn't even miss that money," Collier, of Pace, Fla., said, noting that he voted for George W. Bush and is now a Democrat.

Economic discontent has spilled over into the political sphere all year and could influence the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. Occupy Wall Street and other protests against inequality have grabbed some attention from politicians, with Democrats the most supportive. Last week, a group of demonstrators camped out on the National Mall, crashed stately holiday parties and marched on Capitol Hill, demanding that Congress extend the payroll tax and insurance for the long-term unemployed.

On the payroll tax deduction, 58 percent of respondents said they want Congress to extend the break, while 35 percent want it to expire.

Democrats and independents are the strongest supporters of continuing the tax cut, while Republicans were evenly divided. But the difference is more partisan than ideological: Conservatives supported an extension, 54 percent to the 42 percent who prefer to let the reduction expire.

Those with annual incomes below $50,000 more strongly support the extension compared with higher-income respondents, and seniors were more likely than younger adults to back the extension.

On Wednesday, there was little sign Congress was listening.

Democrats who control the Senate rejected a GOP-ruled House plan to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, but only with cuts to spending and sped-up approval of an oil pipeline. The Senate is crafting its own proposal in response.

If an agreement is not reached by the end of the year, payroll taxes will jump on Jan. 1 from this year's 4.2 percent back to their normal level of 6.2 percent.

Americans are virtually out of patience, the polling shows. And their distrust crosses party lines.

"I really don't feel that they are having the best interests of us as a people," said Rogersville, Tenn., resident Andrea Stafford, 38, a single mother of two who has been unemployed since the summer.

"And when I say people," she added, "I don't mean millionaires and government officials. I'm talking about the normal person who gets up and fixes their children's lunch and has to take off work when their child is sick because we don't have nannies."

The AP-GfK poll found congressional approval near its all-time low and nearly all Americans disappointed with politics. Eighty-four percent of the respondents disapproved of the way Congress is doing its job, with at least 8 in 10 Republicans, Democrats and independents feeling that way.

As for how to balance the federal budget, more now favor cutting government services as the best means to bring federal spending into balance. Sixty percent think lawmakers should focus on budget cuts over tax increases. That figure had been as low as 53 percent in August, during the showdown over raising the country's debt limit.

The biggest shift on that question has come from independents. In the August poll, 37 percent said lawmakers should focus on increasing taxes and 42 percent said cutting services. Now, that divide stands at 28 percent for raising taxes and 59 percent for cutting services.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Dec. 8-12 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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