12:49pm

Thu May 19, 2011
It's All Politics

Debt Ceiling Crisis Could Require Obama, Congress To Buck Polls Once More

While policy makers in Washington and financial centers like New York and London and plain old policy wonks worry about when and even if the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt ceiling will be raised, a lot of U.S. voters apparently couldn't care less or are hostile to the idea.

Politico.com examines how House Republicans aren't hearing much in the way of concern from voters in their districts about the debt limit.

An excerpt:

"No one is saying, 'Raise the debt limit.' No one. Zero. Unless you pay really close attention to politics, you're not talking about the debt ceiling," Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said of his interactions with constituents. Of his colleagues, he said, "Everyone's getting the TARP feeling again."

It took two attempts to win a House majority for the bank bailout bill in 2008 after Republicans defected en masse from President George W. Bush. Lawmakers in both parties felt trapped as constituents urged them not to reward Wall Street for the financial meltdown and top government officials warned them that the nation's economy would collapse without swift action in support of foundering banks.

Likewise, many Americans aren't thrilled with the idea of giving more borrowing authority to a government incapable of balancing its books. So lawmakers are faced again with choosing between an administration sounding the alarm and constituents who are, at best, ambivalent about the debt ceiling.

This tracks with a recent Gallup poll that actually indicated that it's considerably worse than one nof ambivalence. That survey, conducted earlier this month, indicated that 47 percent of those asked were actually opposed to raising the debt ceiling while only 19 percent favored an increase.

Meanwhile, 34 percent of respondents said they didn't have an opinion.

Considering all the dire warnings from both the administration and Wall Street about what could happen if the debt ceiling isn't raised, this level of hostility and disinterest is remarkable.

The comparison to TARP is apt. It also is reminiscent of the political dynamics that surrounded the bailout of the U.S. auto industry or the 2009 economic stimulus.

This represents a tremendous challenge for the administration and Congress. It means if public opinion doesn't shift in their favor, policymakers will be forced to flout it to avoid the unthinkable.

The Treasury Department has succeeded in staving off the day of reckoning until August 2, giving it and other policymakers more time to change public attitudes.

But as the history of TARP, the auto bailout and economic stimulus demonstrates, even in a political climate as poll-driven as that of the U.S., policymakers are willing to buck public opinion when they believe the alternative is economic Armageddon.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.