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The Issue: Taming an unruly Congress

By MARCELLA KREITER, United Press International   |   Oct. 20, 2013 at 4:30 AM   |   Comments

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Ever get the feeling watching the U.S. Congress is like watching a group of unruly teenagers -- or maybe kindergartners -- who refuse to listen to the adults in the room?

Too bad telling them to sit down, shut up and play nice doesn't work as evidenced by the budget crisis that began Oct. 1, closed parts of the federal government for more than two weeks and threatened to send the country into default.

Foreigners can be forgiven for shaking their heads at the antics on Capitol Hill though voters could be less forgiving come Nov. 4, 2014, when the House and a third of the Senate are up for election.

President Obama sounded truly disgusted in remarks Thursday after he had signed legislation ending the standoff.

"There are no winners here. These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy. We don't know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth," he said.

"We know that families have gone without paychecks or services they depend on. We know that potential homebuyers have gotten fewer mortgages, and small business loans have been put on hold. We know that consumers have cut back on spending, and that half of all [chief executive officers] say that the shutdown and the threat of shutdown set back their plans to hire over the next six months. We know that just the threat of default -- of America not paying all the bills that we owe on time -- increased our borrowing costs, which adds to our deficit."

He later implored politicians on the extremes in Congress not to "break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That's not being faithful to what this country is about."

Standard & Poor's estimated the 16-day shutdown cost the economy $24 billion. The previous shutdown, in 1996, lasted seven days and cost the federal government $1.4 billion, the Office of Management and Budget said, explaining that that would be about $2 billion in today's dollars. But at that time, a number of appropriations bills already had been passed, keeping more of the government working, something that didn't happen this time, meaning the cost of this shutdown will be much higher.

The question now is whether voters will remember and whether those in the middle will head for the polls or sit on their hands, leaving the makeup of Congress to the firebrands in both parties.

The political wrangling cost the Republican right.

The Tea Party, once admired for its pluck and anti-business-as-usual message, appears to be falling out of favor. A Pew Research Center for People and the Press survey indicated 49 percent of those queried had an unfavorable opinion of the group compared to 30 percent who approve of it and its tactics. The survey was taken in the midst of the shutdown (Oct. 9-13) and queried 1,504 adults.

The increase in negativity has grown markedly since February when 33 percent gave the party a thumbs up and 25 percent gave it a thumbs down.

The latest survey also apparently tars House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with the same Tea Party brush. Boehner's negative rating among Republicans grew from 28 percent in July to 35 percent in October while McConnell's grew from 24 percent to 32 percent.

Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who led the charge, egging on House colleagues to stand firm on their bid to defund the Affordable Care Act and kept up the divisive rhetoric even as Senate leaders were announcing a deal, hasn't fared too well either. Although Tea Partiers still approve, his negative rating among all Republicans has soared from 16 percent in July to 31 percent in the most recent polling while his approval took a small hit, going from 26 percent in July to 25 percent now.

"The decline in favorable views of the Tea Party over the past four months crosses party lines -- Republicans, independents and Democrats all offer more negative assessments today than in June," Pew said in its commentary.

"For Republicans, the decline is steepest among those who describe themselves as moderate or liberal."

The one glimmer for the Republican establishment is that 47 percent of the public does not consider the Tea Party part of the GOP and 51 percent of mainstream Republicans are of that opinion.

An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, conducted Oct. 7-9 among 800 adults, indicated 70 percent of Americans say Republicans put politics ahead of the good of the country, with only 24 percent saying they have a favorable view of Republicans and 21 percent giving the Tea Party good marks.

And contrary to Cruz's insistence that Americans hate the Affordable Care Act and want it gone, the poll indicated Obamacare actually is gaining support as more people turn their attention to the issue, with 38 percent saying it's a good idea, up from 31 percent last month (although 43 percent still think it's a bad idea, a point less than in September).

The poll gave Cruz an overall 14 percent favorable rating versus 28 percent unfavorable.

A Gallup poll, involving 1,028 adults Oct. 3-6, indicates 60 percent of Americans think it's time for a third party, saying Democrats and Republicans are doing a poor job of representing the people's interests, with only 26 percent saying the two major parties are doing an adequate job.

"However, the desire for a third party is not sufficient to ensure there will be one," Gallup said. "Structural factors in the U.S. election system and the parties' own abilities to adapt to changing public preferences have helped the Republican and Democratic parties to remain the dominant parties in U.S. government for more than 150 years. Third parties that have emerged to challenge their dominance have not been able to sustain any degree of electoral success."

The same poll indicated even fewer Americans are satisfied with the way government is being run than during the height of the Watergate scandal, 18 percent versus 26 percent, and list Washington dysfunction as the nation's top problem -- 33 percent -- eclipsing the economy (19 percent), unemployment (12 percent), the deficit (12 percent) and healthcare (12 percent).

An NBC-Esquire poll, which queried 2,410 registered voters nationwide Aug. 5-11, indicated a new silent majority -- 51 percent of Americans and growing -- has what pollsters called "a surprising set of shared ideas."

"All you hear in Washington is that there's nothing in the middle of the aisle," Daniel Franklin, a principal at the Benenson Strategy Group and Obama's pollster during the 2012 campaign, told NBC. "But it turns out that's not true. We have a massive American center, and it's probably been there for years, just waiting to be found."

Nearly half of those queried expressed disgust with politics, 49 percent saying the system is broken -- a sentiment cited by Obama.

The poll found 66 percent said the United States is still the greatest country in the world with 54 percent seeing it as a model others should emulate. But 81 percent are no longer willing to spend money to spread U.S. ideals overseas, saying the money could be better used at home (this despite foreign aid making up only a tiny fraction -- about 1.5 percent -- of the $2.9 trillion budget).

Fifty percent say the economy is bad and 41 percent don't expect it to get better. Sixty-two percent said they think their children's lives will be worse than their own and 70 percent said the rich are getting richer at the expense of everyone else.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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