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Most favor raising tax on wealthy

Alarmed by rising national debt and increasingly downbeat about their country's course, Americans are clear about how they want to attack the government's runaway budget deficits: raise taxes on the wealthy and keep hands off of Medicare and Medicaid.

At the same time, they say that the government should not raise the legal debt ceiling, which the government must do soon to borrow more money, despite warnings that failing to do so would force the government into default, credit markets into turmoil and the economy into a tailspin.

Those are among the findings of a national McClatchy-Marist poll taking the country's pulse just as President Obama and Congress launch what could be a multiyear debate on the role of government and how to finance it.

Obama heads to northern Virginia today and California on Wednesday to pitch his long-term budget proposals.

On tackling the deficit, voters by a margin of 2-to-1 support raising taxes on incomes above $250,000, with 64 percent in favor and 33 percent opposed.

Independents supported higher taxes on the wealthy by 63-34 percent; Democrats by 83-15 percent; and Republicans opposed by 43-54 percent.

Americans clearly don't want the government to cut Medicare, the government health program for the elderly, or Medicaid, the program for the poor. Republicans in the House voted last week to drastically restructure and reduce those programs, while Obama calls for trimming their costs but leaving them intact.

Republicans would replace Medicare with a voucher system so Americans could choose the amount of coverage they use. Medicaid would be handled as a block-grant program with the states.

Voters oppose cuts to those programs by 80-18 percent. Even among conservatives, only 29 percent supported cuts, and 68 percent opposed them.

No matter how the government tackles its deficits and debt, Americans don't want it to borrow any more. By 69-24 percent, voters oppose raising the legal ceiling for debt.

Other findings:

*Only 44 percent of voters approve of Obama's job performance, while 49 percent disapprove. That was down from 48 percent approval in January, and marked the 17th straight month that his approval has been below 50 percent;

*Only 34 percent of voters approve, and 61 percent disapprove, of the way he's handling the deficit, projected to total about $1.6 trillion this year;

*Only 30 percent approve of the way Republicans in Congress are doing their job, while 63 percent disapprove.

Underlying it all, Americans are in a pessimistic mood. Fewer than one in three -- 32 percent -- think the country is headed in the right direction, while 63 percent think it's headed in the wrong direction.

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