Contempt for Congress Rampant as Public Rejects Sacrifice

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Close

The Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

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Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. public is critical of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress for failing to resolve such issues as the national debt while rejecting the sacrifices that may be needed to fix it.

According to a Bloomberg National Poll, Republicans in Congress have an unfavorable rating of 51 percent, and Democrats are only in slightly better shape, with 49 percent of poll respondents viewing them unfavorably.

“Congress hasn’t been able to do anything except name post offices over the past two years,” said Steve Crews, a 29-year- old writer and independent voter from Long Beach, California. “As soon as one party or the other becomes a majority, they think they have this mandate from God Almighty and the other side must be the devil incarnate,” he said.

With Congress recessing until after the Nov. 6 election, lawmakers left a pile of unresolved issues. Chief among them is a debt-reduction agreement that would address the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and $1.2 trillion in automatic spending reductions set to begin in January. The deficit is projected this year to reach $1.1 trillion, which would make it the fourth consecutive year the government has run trillion-dollar shortfalls.

Deficit Concerns

The deficit, while important, is second to unemployment and jobs as the most important issue facing the country right now, according to the public’s response in the poll.

“One of their purposes is to take care of our bills, and they somehow thought it was OK to just continue to spend,” said Cedric Puckett, a 43-year-old retired Navy veteran from New Port Richey, Florida. “We can’t run our households like they run our government,” he said.

Even with the public’s frustration with Congress’s inability to address the national debt, there’s little appetite for the type of tax-and-spending measures budget experts say would be necessary to balance the nation’s long-term fiscal demands.

Fifty-four percent aren’t willing to cap Medicare benefits and raise the eligibility age to 67; 52 percent don’t want to reduce the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients; 64 percent balk at an increase in individual tax rates; and 58 percent don’t support eliminating some tax deductions, such as those for home mortgage interest or charitable giving.

Tax the Rich

Martha Verrill, a 78-year-old retired education worker from West Minot, Maine, said the wealthy should be taxed at a higher rate as opposed to middle- and lower-income Americans, who also risk losing vital Social Security and Medicare benefits.

“I just don’t think they’re paying their fair share,” said Verrill, who said she’s an independent voter. “If they cut my Social Security, the way everything else is going up, I would have to give up my home,” she said. “I’m not one for politics, but when they start knocking on the door of my existence, I perk my ears up.”

Puckett, the retired Navy veteran, was also anxious about entitlement benefit cuts that he’ll rely on in his retirement. “If they do that to seniors who are 65 years and older now, what will they do to us in 25 years?” he said.

Other respondents said increasing taxes also isn’t the solution. “The taxes on capital gains definitely need to go up,” said Crews, the California writer. In general, “the U.S. government brings in more than enough taxes to cover its needs,” he said. “We just keep going off on these wild adventures and draining the Treasury,” said Crews, referring to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vote Split

The anti-Congress sentiment isn’t aimed at either party in particular. Republicans and Democrats are running almost even when it comes to voter preferences in the November election.

Forty-five percent of likely voters said they would back a Republican in a congressional race while 43 percent said they would choose the Democrat if the election were held today. Independent voters, who will be crucial to determining control of the House and Senate, favor Republicans by 9 percentage points.

Likely voters assign slightly more blame to congressional Republicans, at 41 percent, than to President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, at 39 percent, for failing to change the partisan tone in Washington. The Sept. 21-24 survey of 789 likely voters had an error margin of 3.5 percentage points.

Washington Atmosphere

One thing a majority of Americans agree on: they aren’t convinced the outcome of the presidential election will change the atmosphere in Washington, regardless of who wins.

Fifty-five percent say Congress will continue to be an impediment to progress after Election Day, while 32 percent said lawmakers will get the message and work together.

“It never does change, even when they had a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president nothing happened,” said Sean Connor, a 38-year-old mental health worker and independent voter from Phoenix, Arizona who plans to vote for Democrats this year. “It’s just more of the same.”

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