Why voters worry that Congress can't strike a deal

(CBS News) Americans are unusually attentive to Congress' next move on the so-called fiscal cliff, Republican strategist and CBS News political analyst Frank Luntz offered on "CBS This Morning," because "If Washington doesn't solve this, they know they're gonna get hurt."

A focus group of two dozen voters Tuesday suggested to Luntz that they "voted for change no matter what side they were on," he said. "They voted for change and they didn't get it, and they are kind of nervous that the status quo will continue.

"...Americans are paying more attention to what's happening in Washington because they see it affected in their paychecks, they see it affected in their housing prices," Luntz said.

Participants in the focus group diverged on the primary issue blocking a deal by year's end -- whether or not to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for Americans making more than $250,000 a year -- but most agreed there is more reasonable case to be made for letting those cuts expire for those making $1 million or more annually. But "what they want more than anything else is cuts in spending, and they are prepared to do virtually anything if you give them those spending cuts," Luntz said.

"I'll be specific here," he continued. "They won't take a cut in Medicare or Social Security, but if you change those entitlement programs and raise the retirement age, that they will accept. So there is some give there."

Many in the focus group expressed concern that politics would get in the way of such a compromise, saying they expect blame games and "passing the buck." One participant suggested "you put them in a room, with no food, no water, no heat, and no bathroom breaks -- and they cannot leave until they have a decision."

The disconnect between voters' demands for compromise and what members of Congress are willing to give, Luntz said, is "very simple."

"It's the primary process: Republicans are afraid that if they compromise they will be primaried," he said, citing as examples Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., and former Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, both of whom lost to primary challengers. "Moderate Democrats are afraid someone more progressive will come and run against them if they are seen as talking.

"What Washington needs to do, basically, is both sides need to step out together," Luntz said. "If they do it at the same time, if they do it hand-in-hand, voters will not punish them. In fact, they will reward them for getting the job done."

  • Lindsey Boerma On Twitter»

    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.