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Public wants fiscal deal but is wary of cutbacks

A poll showed Americans opposing the type of reductions likely needed for any accord.

WASHINGTON - Most Americans want President Obama and congressional Republicans to compromise on a budget agreement, though they, too, are unhappy about the options that would avert the fiscal cliff, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The strong support for compromise belies widespread public opposition to big spending cuts likely to be part of any deal.

Most Americans oppose slashing spending on Medicaid and the military, as well as raising the age for Medicare eligibility and slowing the increase of Social Security benefits, all of which appear to be on the table in negotiations. Majorities call each of these items "unacceptable."

A clear majority of Americans, 74 percent, say they would tolerate Obama's proposal to raise taxes on those with incomes over $250,000, but neither side in the talks thinks that alone would generate enough revenue to bridge the budget gap. A smaller majority backs limits to tax deductions.

In general, the public mood is sour about both sides. Fully 76 percent see the Republicans as too intractable on deficits, and most, 57 percent, also see Obama as not being willing enough to compromise.

Underscoring the lack of faith in Washington, just 14 percent see it as "very likely" that Obama and Republicans will agree on a deficit-reduction plan.

In the first Post-ABC poll since Obama's reelection six weeks ago, 54 percent of all Americans say they approve of how he is handling his job - his highest in nearly two years, other than a momentary high of 56 percent after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The positive trend for Obama extends into another measure: For the first time in 21/2 years, 50 percent approve of Obama's handling of the economy. He bottomed out at 35 percent on this score after the showdown on the debt limit.

While there is a desire for both sides to reach across the aisle in the talks, the public is particularly critical of congressional Republicans.

While only 45 percent of Americans give Obama positive marks, far fewer - 26 percent - approve of the way Republicans are handling the budget issue. Among Republicans, barely more than half approve of their party leaders' handling of budget talks; three-quarters of Democrats see Obama as doing a good job.

Should talks break down, 47 percent say they would blame Republicans; 31 percent say they are more likely to point the finger at Obama. Some 18 percent, a growing number, volunteer that they would hold both sides equally culpable.

Overall, 70 percent of Americans disapprove of how Republicans in Congress are doing their job; just 25 percent approve.

The poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday among a random national sample of 1,002 adults, including landline and cellphone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.