Half of Americans Say Congress Should Raise Debt Limit Without Strings Attached

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(Bloomberg) -- US voters blame Republicans and Democrats equally for the standoff over the debt ceiling, a series of new polls shows, sending a mixed message to President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as they try to leverage public opinion to their sides in the negotiations.

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A Monmouth poll released Wednesday showed 51% of Americans want the debt ceiling issue to be dealt with separately from the debate over spending cuts — a so-called “clean” increase. Just 25% say a debt-limit increase should be tied to negotiations over a package of spending cuts demanded by House Republicans.

That contrasts with a CNN poll Tuesday that found 60% believe Congress “should only raise the debt ceiling if it cuts spending at the same time.”

“This appears to be a case of the old adage: ‘Question wording matters most when people know the least,’” said Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray.

“Most Americans don’t have a strong opinion on the debt ceiling — and won’t have one unless there’s a default that impacts them. Beyond that, partisan identity will drive who gets blamed for any unhappiness coming out of a deal,” Murray said.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the US could run out of funds to pay its bills as soon as June 1 if the debt ceiling isn’t increased, and financial markets are growing more skittish.

McCarthy, after a four-hour meeting Wednesday between his and Biden’s hand-picked negotiators, expressed optimism that an agreement would be reached in time to avert a potentially catastrophic US default.

Read more: McCarthy Says GOP and White House ‘Have Time’ to Reach Debt Deal

The polls are remarkably consistent on the question of which side is to blame, underscoring the partisan split in US politics. A Quinnipiac poll Wednesday showed Americans laying responsibility with Biden over House Republicans 38% to 37%. A Marist poll released Tuesday showed that 45% of Americans would blame Republicans for a default, while 43% would blame Biden. Both polls are within the margin of error.

Polls also show general agreement that a default would be bad. The Monmouth survey found that 42% of adults agree that the US would suffer significant economic problems if the $31 trillion debt limit isn’t lifted and there is a default, while 30% say that’s an exaggerated claim and 28% said they have no opinion.

An Economist/YouGov poll Wednesday showed that 70% of Americans — including equal numbers of both parties — thought that default would be either a crisis or a major problem. Seniors and women also had higher levels of concern.

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