Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows President Obama getting better marks than the Congressional Republicans who have frustrated his agenda at every turn.
Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way Obama is handling the deficit, but that's a victory in our lesser-of-two-evils politics: GOP members in Congress have a 64 percent disapproval rating, worse than the President's.
Another boon for Obama is the apparently widespread support for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans if it means getting our debt under control. Seventy-two percent of voters (and, surprisingly, 54 percent of Republicans) favor higher taxes for people making more than $250,000 a year, a policy that President Obama reintroduced last week when presenting his deficit reduction plan.
Obama's plan counters Rep. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity," which makes changes to Medicare and Medicaid while cutting taxes for the same people that most Americans think should get taxed more. As bitter debates about entitlements, debt ceilings and 2012 budgets loom, Democrats in and outside the White House have new cause for optimism: only 34 percent of voters support Ryan's proposal to transform Medicare into a private voucher system. If a central piece of the Congressman's deficit reduction scheme is that unpopular, Obama's got a chance to put the ball back in his court.
Unfortunately for every politician seeking to balance the budget, cuts and changes to entitlement programs and military spending in general remain extremely unpopular. Being the biggest drivers of cost, it's difficult to imagine a serious proposal to curb spending that doesn't impact these programs.
Most curious about the new poll is where Obama loses. A narrow majority of voters think Congressional Republicans have taken a "stronger leadership role" in the deficit debate. Indeed, in the run-up to the barely-averted government shutdown two weeks ago, the GOP was extremely vocal about the president being "AWOL" from the debate.
With such strong support for his proposals, it sounds like Obama has the backing from voters to take the reins in upcoming showdowns with Republicans. Where he's weakest—commanding a message—would have been difficult to guess three years ago, when he was on the campaign trail.