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Americans Vote Bush Should Not Tap Into Social Security Revenue

By Ronald Brownstein
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Although Americans express resounding approval of President Bush’s performance at home and abroad, an overwhelming majority would rather cancel later stages of his signature tax cut than tap Social Security revenue to pay for other government programs, a Los Angeles Times Poll has found.

With war, the recession and the tax cut’s cost straining the government’s bottom line, the White House on Monday released a new budget that projects Washington must divert $1.73 trillion in Social Security money to fund other programs from 2002 through 2012. But in The Times’ survey, fully four-fifths of Americans -- including more than two-thirds of Republicans -- say they would rather defer future tax cuts than use Social Security money that way.

Those findings might be the most ominous clouds for Bush in a political environment defined mostly by his extraordinarily broad support.

Congressional Democrats charge that Bush’s tax cut, more than any other factor, obliterated the anticipated federal budget surpluses and forced the government to dip deeply into Social Security revenue -- barely more than a year after a 2000 campaign in which both parties pledged to set aside that money in a “lockbox” to reduce the national debt.

So far, the poll suggests, Democrats have not pinned the blame on Bush for the reversal: Substantially more Americans blame the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 than the tax cut and Bush’s policies for the return of federal deficits. And more Americans express faith in Bush than congressional Democrats to revive the economy. But on a series of questions, a majority of Americans indicated an openness to reconsidering the tax cut -- something Bush has pledged will not happen.

The Times Poll, supervised by Polling Director Susan Pinkus, surveyed 1,545 adults from Jan. 31 through Feb. 3.