On the "third rail" issue of entitlements - specifically Social Security and Medicare - the Republican leadership is setting itself up on a crash course with the sentiments of the American people - Democrats, independents and Republicans alike, according to a just-released poll.
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner said March 2, the same day the poll was released, he wants to take on "entitlement reform" - considered by many a code word for a slash in benefits - and even asked President Obama to "take the plunge" with him.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., is jumping right in.
Ryan, as chair of the House Committee on the Budget, oversees what will and won't be in the Republican budget. He has told reporters that cuts to entitlement programs will indeed be included.
But the poll, done for Wall Street Journal/NBC, suggests such a move would likely set off a tidal wave of public outrage. That's bad news for Republicans, especially considering that, according to the same poll, 69 percent of Americans are unhappy with the job Congress is doing. The Republican Party controls the House and is tying it up in slash-and-burn ventures like this.
When asked, "Do you think it will be necessary to cut spending on Social Security in order to significantly reduce the federal budget deficit?" only 22 percent said "yes," while 49 percent said "no." Respondents were then asked what they would choose to do if there was no possible way to solve the budget deficit just by gutting completely wasteful government spending. Only 35 percent agreed to "cutting important programs," while a significant majority - 58 percent - said they favored either "raising taxes" or "postponing elimination of the deficit."
The most stunning rebuke to Republican policies came in answers to questions about cutting entitlements, as well as education. A whopping 77 percent said that it was either mostly or totally unacceptable to cut Social Security. The corresponding figures for Medicaid, Medicare and K-12 education were, respectively, 67 percent, 76 percent and 77 percent.
The vast majority of Republicans, even tea party-supporting Republicans, reject cuts to Social Security and Medicare, the poll showed.
By contrast, an astounding 81 percent of responders said that taxing people making more than $1 million yearly was mostly or wholly acceptable, and 74 percent said getting rid of tax credits for oil and gas companies was a good idea.
Even the premise upon which Boehner and his Republicans base their plans to cut entitlement programs - that something must be done about runaway deficits - isn't overwhelmingly accepted by the public as the most pressing need. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said that fixing the economy - specifically, creating jobs - should be the top priority, compared to only 40 percent who worried about the deficit.
Based on these numbers, as well as the continuous demonstrations in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere, it appears that the Republican leadership will either be forced to pull way back from their agenda or run afoul of a national Wisconsin-style majority backlash.
Pollsters contacted 1,000 people by telephone from Feb. 24-28, with a 3.10 percent margin of error.