Despite hitting a new low in its approval rating, Members of Congress are still far apart on doing anything that might change people’s opinion of the institution.
Congress moved into uncharted territory this week, when only 9 percent of Americans said they approve of the job Congress is doing, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted Oct. 19-24.
The poll results come in the wake of a series of high-profile disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over how to help the economy that have resulted in little legislative output. The poll also showed that since Republicans took control of the House in January, overall Congressional disapproval ratings have spiked by 22 points.
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) wasn’t surprised, given the state of the economy and high level of unemployment — 9.1 percent in September.
“That can only be our families and staff,” Kyl, a member of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, jokingly said of the 9 percent rating.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), also a deficit panel member, said he believes the rating could improve as Congress works to address the economy.
“It can be turned around by showing the country this place can provide adult leadership after all,” Kerry said.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he understood voters’ frustration with Congress.
“If I were asked the question, I would certainly disapprove of Congress.”
Waxman blamed Republicans, who control the House and “essentially run the Senate because of the 60-vote requirement.”
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said it’s frustrating, but he believes constituents’ views will ultimately be the true measure.
“We will each be individually judged on our work for our constituents, and that is what I believe, at the end of the day, it will be about.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said he is looking to the members of the super committee to change the abysmal perception of Congress. He said that although he is optimistic, the results could go either way.
“What we need is the nation to come together and compromise and not everyone go to their respective corners and not play,” he said. “I remain optimistic about the super committee because I know people on that committee on both sides of the aisle understand the enormous responsibility and legacy that they will have with this committee. It’s a shining moment for this Congress. Or not.”
The bipartisan, bicameral group has been charged with identifying at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years by the end of November. Failure by the panel to act would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts that most lawmakers want to avoid.
The approval rating was 2 points lower than the results of a poll taken a month ago and is the first time the rating has fallen to single digits since the question was first asked in 1977, according to CBS News.
The survey of 1,650 adults has a 3-point margin of error.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide agreed with Kyl, saying, “Those numbers aren’t going to go up until the economy goes up.”
Democrats and Republicans have been trying to focus on legislation that would help boost the economy and create jobs, but they don’t agree on what will work.
Senate Democrats are implementing a strategy of holding votes on elements of President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs package, which they contend would help put people back to work. The cost of the plan would be offset by raising taxes on millionaires — a move that Republicans oppose.
In the House, Republicans are also taking a piecemeal approach to some of the president’s jobs package, including a vote today on a repeal of a 3 percent tax withholding requirement for government contractors that was enacted under President George W. Bush. The White House on Tuesday said it supports the legislation.
Adding to the confusion, the Senate last week defeated a similar measure that Democratic leaders worked to defeat because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to be trying to use it as a contrast with another Democratic jobs measure.
While many Democrats have balked at the piecemeal approach, Rep. Kathy Hochul, one of the newest Members of the House, said, “Count me in” if it means getting something done.
“After seven town hall meetings, the No. 1 issue I took away was jobs. No. 2 was, ‘Why can’t you all just get along?’” the New York Democrat said. “We have a moral obligation to use all of our resources, pull together, start treating each other like human beings on both sides of the aisle and do what the people want us to do: Stop fighting, get the job done and live up to the American people.
“I’ve decided I’m going to start a caucus called the ‘Why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along caucus’ because that’s what people want us to do. And if I’m one person alone, I’ll sit and have a beer by myself,” Hochul said.
The Senate next week will vote on another part of Obama’s jobs bill, a provision that would provide $60 billion to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure.
The bill would be paid for with a 0.7 percent tax on millionaires. Republicans are not expected to back the measure, and it is therefore unlikely to win the 60 votes needed for the Senate to consider the bill.
Democrats contend that most Americans support the idea of having the more affluent pay a little more to help jump-start the economy.
Republicans have questioned the effectiveness of the Democratic plan and have called for reduced regulations, which they argue has hamstrung the economy.
A House GOP leadership aide said Republicans want to work with “the president and the rest of Washington to pass legislation that creates jobs.”
The aide pointed to the 3 percent withholding repeal bill as one area of common ground.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he expects the rating to improve as Congress increasingly passes legislation.
“We have to do our job. I think the public is frustrated like we are. We have a divided government and that makes it really tough. All people see are the warts. Hopefully that will change.”