Americans say giant federal deficits trouble them, but they're reluctant to charge ahead with a budget-cutting drive that would hurt the programs they like, a new poll shows.

Americans say giant federal deficits trouble them, but they're reluctant to charge ahead with a budget-cutting drive that would hurt the programs they like, a new poll shows.


With a bipartisan commission appointed by President Barack Obama ready to unveil its ideas for mopping up the red ink, an Associated Press-CNBC Poll shows the public divided over accepting the pain needed to address the problem. That wariness underscores the political risks Obama and Congress would face should they embark on a serious effort to shrink federal shortfalls, which have ballooned to over $1 trillion a year.


Forty-seven percent said the deficit should be reduced with spending cuts even if new education, health and energy programs were eliminated, but 46 percent said those programs should grow even if the red ink expands. Offered more than a dozen tax increases and spending cuts to help balance the budget, only four got majority support: Trim the federal workforce, cut their salaries, close some overseas military bases and end the tax deduction on home mortgage interest in exchange for lower income tax rates.


"I know it's very difficult, but there has to be some way," said Maria Bennifield, 47, who runs a cleaning business in Phoenix, Ariz., and favors deficit reduction but opposes health and education cuts.


One group that people seem increasingly willing to target is the rich. In a turnaround from early November, most oppose extending expiring tax cuts for the highest-earning Americans. Just 34 percent want to renew tax cuts for everyone; 50 percent prefer extending the reductions only for those earning under $250,000 a year and 14 percent want to end them for all.


In the wake of congressional elections that will give Republicans control of the House next year, both parties have given budget problems a higher profile. On Monday, Obama proposed freezing the pay of the government's 2 million civilian workers for the next two years, a step he said was among many needed to cut deficits.


Public angst about federal deficits is widespread. Eighty-five percent say growing red ink will harm future generations - the most concern registered since AP polls first asked the question in 2008. Fifty-six percent think the shortfalls will prompt a major economic crisis in the next decade.