Utahns Want Congress to Prioritize Federal Debt, Social Security

One of the first things the new GOP-controlled Congress will take up is approval of the Keystone oil pipeline.

And a new UtahPolicy poll shows Utahns – Republicans, Democrats and independents alike – really don’t care much about Keystone.

Rather, the new survey, by Dan Jones & Associates, finds that Utah Republicans want Congress to deal first and foremost with the federal debt – which has actually been decreasing in growth under Democratic President Barack Obama.

Utah Democrats want Congress to deal with the Social Security funding shortfall, with immigration second on the Democrats’ wish list.

While political independents in the state agree with Republicans, tackle the federal debt above all else. Independents say their second top issue is dealing with the Social Security shortfall, which is also the Democrats’ top issue.

Jones asked 609 Utahns (margin of error plus/minus 3.97 percent) to rank by importance six major issues of the day: Immigration, the growing Social Security funding shortfall, federal debt, tax reform, climate change and the Keystone oil pipeline.

Jones asked respondents to rank the importance of each issues Congress should solve, from 1 to 5.

Jones then tallied the responses and determined the mean score, with a score closer to 5 being the more important the issue was to those polled.

Because both Republicans and independents ranked federal debit as their most important issue, for all Utahns that issue comes out on top, as well.

Whether the GOP-controlled Congress can, or will, make major inroads in the federal debt – now above $3 trillion – remains to be seen.

But the annual federal debt has been decreasing during recent years – in part because of growing federal tax and fee revenues, in part because ongoing budget resolutions basically freezes spending from one year to the next.

In any case, Utah Republicans give federal debt a mean score of 4.59 with 5 being the top score on the “important” scale.

Independents rank federal debt 4.31 out of 5, and their highest issue to solve in the new Congress.

Utah Democrats aren’t much interested in the federal debt. They give it a 3.71 mean score, their second lowest in importance after the Keystone pipeline.

The least important issue for Republicans and independents? Climate change.

Republicans give it just a 2.02 mean score, their lowest in importance. Independents give climate change a 2.85 mean score, also their lowest ranking.

The most important issue for Utah Democrats is the Social Security shortfall.

But Republicans rank it only a 4.12 mean score, third out of the six issues.

Independents give the Social Security shortfall a 4.25 ranking, second out of six.

So, if Utah’s six-person, all Republican, federal delegation follows what their party rank-and-file want done in the new Congress, they’ll deal with the following six issues in importance – highest to lowest:

— Federal debt (4.59).

— Tax reform (4.13).

— Social Security shortages (4.12).

— Immigration (4.04).

— Keystone pipeline (3.85).

— Climate change (2.02).

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, where any tax reform measures will be first dealt with.

Hatch promised in his 2012 re-election that this would be his last term. But he’s already hinting that if he can’t get the tax reform he wants passed by 2018, he may run again.

Hatch is 81, and will turn 82 March 22. He would be 85 when he runs again, and 91 when his next term would end.

We’ll see how hard he really works on tax reform – the No. 2 priority by Utah Republicans — over the next two years of the Obama presidency.