To judge from news coverage lately, fixing the budget deficit is by far America's most pressing issue. When the chairmen of President Obama's deficit commission came out with their proposal this week, pundits rushed to weigh in. And the $1.4 trillion budget gap was a hot topic on the Sunday shows (which, like it or not, still play a key role in establishing which are the important issues of the day). "Deficit Remains Focus of National Attention," the New York Times declared. The paper even has created a special interactive tool that challenges readers to fix the deficit however they choose.
But outside of Washington, the picture looks very different. A new CBS poll finds that just 4 percent of voters see the deficit as the main priority for Congress next year. The majority of respondents--56 percent--identified jobs and the economy's recovery as the top issue.
And even when Americans do express concern about the deficit in the abstract, they loath to suggest specific cuts, judging from the results logged by Ask America, Yahoo! News' informal, unscientific polling forum. Out of almost 23,000 readers who weighed in, 3 in 4 said spending cuts were needed -- but "many also say they would not support the idea if the cuts hurt them or programs they support."
And there, in policy terms, is the rub. Efforts to cut the deficit by cutting spending can make it harder to create jobs. So at least in the short term, Washington may have to choose its battles. And it's pretty clear where most ordinary Americans stand on that decision.
(Photo of Obama flanked by the chairmen of his deficit commission, Erskine Bowles, left, and Alan Simpson: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)