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Most Americans want to raise debt ceiling, but disagree on how to lower national debt

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The country's credit rating could be downgraded again if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling this year. Well, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds Americans are split over whether to raise it. They also don't agree on how to reduce the national debt, which now stands north of $30 trillion. NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is here to talk about the poll. Hey there.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: It sounds like Americans are just about as divided as Congress over what to do about the debt ceiling. What did you find?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, there's, you know, usually two ways to look at how to reduce the national debt, cut programs or services or raise taxes and fees or some mix of both. Respondents in the poll were almost evenly divided on which method they were mostly in favor of. And it looks a lot like the political stripes in Congress. Democrats say mostly raise taxes and fees. Republicans say cut spending programs. The problem is something like three-quarters of the budget has essentially been off limits because we're talking about entitlements - Social Security and Medicare - and defense spending. And there's just not enough really left over to close the gap in any kind of meaningful way, especially when Republicans are almost entirely against raising taxes on anyone at all, including the wealthy.

KELLY: The poll also asked about the minimum wage and, I gather, found broad support for raising it. What did you find?

MONTANARO: Yeah. It's really interesting 'cause this has gone up pretty significantly. And two-thirds now say that they're in favor of raising it to $15 an hour. Almost 9 in 10 Democrats and two-thirds of independents want to raise it. It doesn't get done, though. Why? Sixty percent of Republicans are against it.

For some context here, you know, the minimum wage hasn't been raised since 2009. And right now it's only $7.25 an hour. That means if you work 40 hours a week for the 52 weeks in a year, you'd only be making $15,000 a year. And the wage gap and income inequality have been huge issues in American society, become huge political ones, too. And that's not going to be going away anytime soon. You know, and that's really been driven by younger voters who are showing that there are way more left economically than even younger voters a decade ago.

KELLY: Yeah, lots of strong feelings on that one. One last thing to ask you about, which is spending on Ukraine and the war in Ukraine, which so far President Biden has done a lot of, and he's mostly done it unilaterally. Congress needs to step in here at some point. Where do Americans stand on spending on that war?

MONTANARO: Right. Well, as we know, the president controls the sword, and Congress controls the purse, including for new swords. And right now plenty of arms are needed and have been provided to Ukraine to defend itself, without, by the way, American soldiers being involved. The poll finds that a plurality want to continue the funding. And two-thirds say that funding has been about right or hasn't been enough support for that.

But there is a contentious fight brewing between Democrats and Republicans here. Half of Republicans now say that the U.S. has given too much in aid to Ukraine, and the U.S. has given about $24 billion in weapons and support to Ukraine since the start of the invasion. But this opposition from Republicans has quadrupled in the past year. While House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's mostly worked behind the scenes to secure funding, we know he's had a really hard time controlling his right flank, and they're the ones who are most against it. So we know this is going to be a big fight to come.

KELLY: That is. NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thank you so much.

MONTANARO: Glad to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.