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Yes, Virginia, there really is a way to balance the budget

President Obama is set to propose his “compromise” budget plan on Wednesday. His budget is reported to trim the deficit by $1.8 trillion over the next ten years, with nearly $600 billion in savings coming from additional revenue and $1.2 trillion coming from domestic program and entitlement cuts.

To be sure, his proposal offers Republicans more entitlement reform than before – a move that many on the left are against. But the President’s proposal still includes $580 billion in new taxes on the wealthy, a position that Republicans have consistently and unwaveringly opposed since taxes went up as a result of the fiscal cliff deal in January. It follows that we are still on the same long, hard path to a grand bargain. And this week brings yet another proposal that does little to get us there.

But new survey data, collected and financed by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC and in collaboration with the Campaign to Fix the Debt, shows a path towards a deal and how one can be reached.

There remains a solid majority willing to rein in entitlements—so long as voters believe that there will also be economic growth and job creation along with fiscal stability.

The American people are in a profoundly pessimistic and angry mood. The Republican Party’s approval ratings stand at a 20-year low, with 66 percent judging it unfavorably compared to 33 percent favorably. The Democrats are viewed in a more favorable light, but are still not in good stead (43 percent favorable to 53 percent unfavorable).

Fifty-two percent of voters believe the country is off on the wrong track, and 50 percent say the same about the economy. Close to a majority say we will not be able to balance the budget anytime soon.

Against this backdrop, Democrats and Republicans have offered up competing budget proposals—the Democrats in the Senate, the Republicans in the House—to address the nation’s mounting fiscal challenges. 

The two budgets are roughly $1 trillion apart on taxes and $750 billion apart on military spending over the next ten years. They are fundamentally at odds on Medicare and entitlement reform as well as deficit reduction: the Republican plan would balance the budget over the next 10 years, while the Democratic plan reduces the deficit to an amount equivalent to 2.2% of GDP by 2023.

With such stark differences, it’s no surprise that the plans have had a polarizing effect—we face, yet again, a seemingly intractable budget stalemate in Washington. Neither side wants to compromise. And Americans are enthusiastic about neither plan.

Our new poll shows that Americans view the Republican plan, which makes draconian spending cuts and fundamentally alters Medicare, favorably, but only by a tepid 46-37 margin. By a broader margin (56-31), they favor the Democratic plan, but neither plan inspired much confidence in our respondents. 

When we asked whether they thought that either the Democrats or Republicans had a realistic plan to reduce the deficit, just 20 percent said that the Republicans did, while 25 percent said that the Democrats did. But 49 percent believe that neither side has a realistic plan.

So what do the American people want? It’s clear. They want a bipartisan, compromise plan. By an overwhelming margin—80 percent to 8—our respondents support the new Simpson-Bowles plan, which cuts wasteful spending, reforms our outdated tax code, and makes the necessary changes to entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security in order to protect them for future generations of Americans. 

This plan would reduce our debt by $2.4 trillion.

In practice, this new version of Simpson-Bowles raises close to $1.3 trillion through tax reform including the fiscal-cliff deal. It saves $600 billion from health-care programs and generates $600 billion in new tax revenue from ending or curbing deductions and breaks. And it makes $1.3 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending.

The plan stood up to scrutiny. When we told respondents that it would cut their Medicare and Social Security, they still supported it, 56 percent to 24 percent. What’s more, when we said that cuts to Medicare and Social Security would only affect higher income retirees, including millionaires, the plan’s support increased, with 65 percent in favor and 20 percent opposed.

Our survey respondents showed a strong desire here for a broad-scale deal that will reduce the debt and deficit, cut spending, and reform the tax code. Indeed, there remains a solid majority willing to rein in entitlements—so long as voters believe that there will also be economic growth and job creation (which remains their highest priority), along with fiscal stability.

To date, very few surveys have examined this issue in any great detail, comparing the actual details of the Democratic, Republican, and compromise plan and gauging American attitudes. Our findings offer compelling evidence that, while there is a great divide between the two parties, what the public wants is a clear, bipartisan fix to our nation’s fiscal situation.

Contrary to all of the doomsaying in Washington and the pervasive message that finding a solution is impossible, there is a clear path to a balanced budget, to deficit and debt reduction, and to achieving fiscal well-being. The results of our poll unequivocally show this. But the question remains whether the nation’s political leadership will put aside their partisan differences for a chance at the real agreement that the American people strongly support.

Douglas E. Schoen has served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton. He has more than 30 years experience as a pollster and political consultant. He is also a Fox News contributor and co-host of "Fox News Insiders" Sundays on Fox News Channel and Mondays at 10:30 am ET on FoxNews.com Live. He is the author of 11 books. His latest, co-authored with Malik Kaylan is "The Russia-China Axis: The New Cold War and America’s Crisis of Leadership (Encounter Books, September 2014). Follow Doug on Twitter @DouglasESchoen.

Jessica Tarlov is a political strategist at Douglas E. Schoen, LLC.

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