Poll: Most predict "major problems" if "fiscal cliff" isn't averted

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By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto, Fred Backus and Stephanie Condon

For months, lawmakers in Washington have warned of the dire consequences of going over the so-called "fiscal cliff" - and the public has been listening.

More than nine in 10 Americans expect economic problems if Washington doesn't avert the "cliff," according to a new CBS News poll, conducted Dec. 12-16. A majority expects "major problems" for the U.S. economy.

CBS News

The "fiscal cliff" refers to a series of tax hikes and spending cuts set to go into effect next year. Current income tax rates, first enacted during the Bush administration, are set to expire, meaning all Americans could see an income tax hike if Congress doesn't act. The 2 percent payroll tax cut that Mr. Obama instituted is also set to expire. On the spending side, $1.2 trillion in cuts to both defense and non-defense programs are set to kick in on January 2 unless Washington acts.

Going over the "fiscal cliff" would result in significant deficit reduction, but economists agree that going over the "cliff" would likely send the nation into another recession. The "cliff," meanwhile, would be more accurately described as a "slope," since it wouldn't all go into effect at once.

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are engaged in serious negotiations over an economic package of spending cuts and revenue increases with which to replace the "fiscal cliff." Boehner, meanwhile, has put forward a "plan B" to enact before the year is up if a deal isn't reached, which would just extend the current income tax rates for income over $1 million.

According to the poll, just half of Americans think Congress and the White House will reach a deal, though Democrats are more optimistic than Republicans.

Right now all parties involved -- the president and Democrats and Republicans in Congress -- receive negative marks for how they are handling the negotiations over taxes and spending cuts. But the public is more critical of the Republicans in Congress on this matter.

Americans want to see both sides compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff - 78 percent say Mr. Obama and Democrats should compromise, while 81 percent say Republicans should.

As negotiations over the fiscal cliff continue, three in 10 Americans are following news about those talks very closely, and another four in 10 are following it somewhat closely.

Raising taxes on those with incomes of $250,000 or more is by far the most popular of the deficit-reduction measures tested in the poll; it is the only one that receives majority support. Americans are divided on reducing government services and programs that benefit people like themselves; 45 percent favor that, while 48 percent oppose it.

The poll also asked which of two policies Americans prefer: a plan that includes raising tax rates on higher income households, eliminating some tax deductions and making some government spending cuts, or one that does not raise tax rates, but eliminates more tax deductions and includes greater spending cuts. More, 52 percent, prefer the first option.

There are political differences on this question as well: 59 percent of Republicans prefer the second option, while 69 percent of Democrats prefer the first one.