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Date published: 1/18/2013
The survey was conducted as the two parties gird for a debt-limit battle that is likely to dominate the next two months in the capital. The fight is sure to underscore partisan differences over how to curb federal deficits that have surpassed $1 trillion for four straight years. Obama insists that besides spending cuts there should be more tax increases on the wealthy, which the GOP opposes.
While saying he will refuse to negotiate on the debt ceiling, Obama has said he will bargain separately on finding ways to reduce the annual federal deficit.
Despite the majority in the survey who fear severe economic problems if the debt limit is not raised, in a separate question only about 3 in 10 supported the general idea of increasing the ceiling. Four in 10 opposed it, with the rest expressing neutral feelings.
Democrats were about twice as likely as Republicans to support boosting the borrowing limit, while Republicans were likelier than Democrats by a similar margin to oppose an increase.
The government reached its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit Dec. 31 but has avoided default by using cash from pension and other funds it administers, money that will eventually be replaced. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said his ability to use such bookkeeping measures will be exhausted by early March or sooner.
Wayne Wiedrich, 46, an engineering inspector in Williston, N.D., said in a poll follow-up interview that he agrees that failure to boost the debt ceiling would risk severe problems.
"But on the other hand, it's not doing the economy any good to raise the debt limit, print money and spend money we don't have. One of these days China will come knocking on our door and say, 'We own you,'" he said, referring to the country that holds more U.S. debt than any other nation.
Homemaker Sherry Giordano, 59, of Feasterville, Pa., disagreed.
"It has to be done," she said of raising the borrowing limit. "We shouldn't risk our reputation or spend money and time arguing about it. We have to pay our debts."
The survey showed slight shifts in concerns about the economy and federal budget deficits. Eighty-six percent consider the economy a top issue, down 5 percentage points from last summer, while 76 percent have the same view on federal deficits, up 7 points since then.