Is this the worst Congress in our lifetimes? The public now gives Congress its worst performance rating in the 20 years in which pollsters have been asking the question. From the Wall Street Journal:
This particular Congress ranks as one of the worst – ever.
In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 42% of those polled judged the first session of the 112th Congress “one of the worst” in the 222-year history of the institution. Another 33% said it was “below average.”
While Congress is really an unpopular institution, these numbers stand out for being especially atrocious. For example, this history polling data (PDF) shows that in previous years such as 2005, 2000, 1999, and 1997, only about 10 percent of people ranked the Congress in those years as the worst ever, with the majority believing it was average.
Some of this new found disapproval of Congress is probably the result of the prolonged economic downturn. But a lot probably has to do with the fact that this Congress truly is behaving horribly.
The current Congress is doing almost nothing to address our severe unemployment crisis. The filibuster is now routinely abused in the Senate to slow down or obstruct basically everything, no matter how mundane. The process of legislation has been mostly replaced by the pathetic theater of offering show bills designed to fail to score political points. Campaigns have been flooded with money from shadowy super PACs secretly running negative ads. Worst of all, the traditionally boring but essential duties of Congress, like keeping the government funded or raising the debt ceiling, have been turned into unnecessary battlegrounds for political fights. Each deadlock risked doing serious damage to our economy, averted only by terrible last minute deals.
Combine this poll with the recent Gallup poll showing being a member of Congress is now considered the most dishonest profession. What we have is a monumental problem. People are not just upset with Congress; they are losing trust in the institutional foundations of our democracy. That is a dangerous direction for a nation to be going.
These are warning signs that should be heeded. Our government and our politics are in need of serious far-reaching structural reforms.