US Senate Democrats hold a news conference to voice opposition to a Republican budget bill

Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer, left, and Debbie Stabenow are seen at the conclusion of a news conference held by Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill. (Michael Reynolds / EPA / March 21, 2013)

Over the last two years, President Obama and Congress have put the country on track to reduce projected federal budget deficits by nearly $4 trillion. Yet when that process began, in early 2011, only about 12% of Americans in Gallup polls cited federal debt as the nation's most important problem. Two to three times as many cited unemployment and jobs as the biggest challenge facing the country.

So why did policymakers focus so intently on the deficit issue?

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