Atlanta For Rep. Tim Scott the debt ceiling is not only the top issue voters in his South Carolina district want to talk about these days, it seems to be the only issue.
The office of the freshman Republican has been logging dozens of calls and emails every day about the debt ceiling, and it’s the No. 1 topic of discussion at town hall-style meetings with voters.
“Tons of phone calls, lots of emails, and the closer we get to Aug. 2, the more we’re hearing,” Scott said.
With the deadline looming to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, voters are tuning in, worried by the prospect of a financial meltdown if the nation defaults and concerned that elected officials in Washington are playing politics with an issue that could have far-reaching consequences.
If the United States falls into default, the result could be higher interest rates on mortgages, car loans and credit cards as well as a stop to Social Security checks for the elderly.
In its simplest form, the debt ceiling fight crystallizes party orthodoxy: Republicans staking out a hard line against raising taxes and Democrats standing firm against deep cuts to government services.
President Barack Obama supports a blend of spending cuts and tax increases, a position that has backing of 69 percent of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll. And among those who aren’t wed to an entrenched party view, pragmatism seems to be gaining traction over ideology.
A poll from the Pew Research Center found that among independent voters — coveted by both political parties — concern has shifted from fear that raising the debt ceiling would increase government spending to worry about the impact of the failure to raise the debt ceiling.
Two months ago Pew found that independents, by 49 percent to 34 percent margin, were more concerned that raising the debt ceiling would lead to higher government spending, as opposed to chiefly fearing the harmful effects of keeping the ceiling unchanged. This month, independents split evenly on the question.
“It’s going to be calamitous if we don’t raise our debt ceiling,” worried Ralph Leezenbaum of Mount Kisco, N.Y., who said he thought it would be raised in the end.
Among some voters, there is suspicion that the talks in Washington are infused with the politics of the 2012 election.
“I’m probably most frustrated for all the talk of bipartisanship,” said 60-year-old Mary Larson of Palatine, Ill. “It’s not happening. I don’t see compromise right now.”
A San Francisco resident, Brian Fuller, said he believes that the debt ceiling should be raised given the country’s fragile economic health, but he also worries about the growth of government.
“We need to use this time to evolve government so that it’s not quite so huge,” said Fuller, 50. “How we do that and not hurt the truly unfortunate is a very difficult question.”