Public strongly opposes debt ceiling increase: Reuters/Ipsos

WASHINGTON Wed Jan 12, 2011 7:23am EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes raising the country's debt limit even though failure to do so could hurt America's international standing and push up borrowing costs, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

Some 71 percent of those surveyed oppose increasing the borrowing authority, the focus of a brewing political battle over federal spending. Only 18 percent support an increase

The poll underscores the tough task ahead for U.S. lawmakers as the debt nears its current ceiling of $14.3 trillion. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner last week warned that a failure to raise the borrowing limit in the coming months could lead to "catastrophic economic consequences".

Republicans, who won control of the House of Representatives in November on a promise to scale back government, hope to pair any debt-ceiling hike with a commitment from President Barack Obama to reduce long-term spending.

Republicans have vowed to slash $60 billion from the budget as soon as March, but many of those cuts are not likely to be popular with the public.

WHAT TO CUT?

Only 24 percent say the country can afford to cut back on education spending, a likely Republican target, and 21 percent support cuts to law enforcement.

With the Pentagon fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 51 percent supported cutbacks to military spending.

Less than half, 45 percent, support an expected Republican effort to pare environmental enforcement.

Some 53 percent support cutting the budgets of financial regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, in spite of the widespread consensus that a lax regulatory atmosphere contributed to the devastating financial crisis of 2007-2009.

And 47 percent support cutbacks to national parks, which were shuttered for several weeks during the budget battles of 1995 and 1996.

Expensive benefit programs that account for nearly half of all federal spending enjoy widespread support, the poll found. Only 20 percent supported paring Social Security retirement benefits while a mere 23 supported cutbacks to the Medicare health-insurance program.

Some 73 percent support scaling back foreign aid and 65 percent support cutting back on tax collection.

The poll of 1,021 U.S. adults was conducted between Friday and Monday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)