WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Most Americans believe tax hikes are OK if you're making more than $250,000, a policy proposed by President Barack Obama, but hands off Medicare and Social Security, a poll released on Monday found.
The Quinnipiac University poll found that 60 percent of Americans among both major political parties think raising income taxes on households making more than $250,000 should be a main tenet of the government's efforts to tame the deficit. More than 70 percent, including a majority of Republicans, say those making more than $1 million should pay more.
But 80 percent say raising taxes on those making less than that should not be part of the government's approach. Moreover, most oppose touching Medicare and Social Security - two long-term drivers of the budget deficit over the coming decades.
"Given those numbers, it's clear that those who want serious deficit reduction have their work cut out for them in convincing the public, which seems adamantly opposed to cutting the programs with the largest budgets," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the polling institute.
In tackling the deficit, most economists agree taxing the rich only won't raise the revenue necessary to make a dent. With much of federal spending fixed in entitlement programs and interest of the debt, cutting spending alone is not likely to solve the nation's fiscal problems.
Broader tax increases in some form, whether it be income, sales or other forms, will be necessary, economists say.
This year, the deficit is expected to top $1.5 trillion, about 10 percent of gross domestic product. The administration and many economists say a healthy deficit would be about 3 percent of GDP.
Obama's 2011 budget proposal and most of his fellow Democrats favor eliminating tax breaks for individuals making more than $200,000 and for households making more than $250,000, which were enacted in 2001 and 2003.
Not surprisingly, many more Democrats than Republicans back hiking taxes on those making more, though 56 percent of Republicans did support raising taxes on those making more than $1 million, the poll found.
There was only a slim partisan divide, with only slightly fewer Republicans opposed to cutting the growth of the government health plan for the elderly, Medicare or Social Security, to help the deficit.
Congress is virtually certain to take action on tax laws this year because the cuts will expire for all income categories at the end of this year. Obama pledged during the presidential campaign not to raise takes on those making less than $250,000.
Under Obama's plan, the top two tax brackets will revert to 39.6 percent and 36 percent, from 35 percent and 33 percent now.
The poll conducted earlier this month surveyed 1,907 registered voters across the country, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.
Editing by Doina Chiacu