Much has been made over President Bush's low
public approval ratings for most of the past year. But opinion polls
indicate that the American public holds Congress in low regard as
A recent poll by the Associated Press found President Bush's public
approval rating at 36 percent.
But only 27 percent of those surveyed approved of the way Congress is
doing its job.
Norman Ornstein is a longtime observer of Congress at the American
Enterprise Institute in Washington.
"But flatly, in the 36 plus years that we have been here, we have never
seen it this bad," said Ornstein. "The institution is broken at this point
and needs enormous changes to bring it back to where it should be and
needs to be if we are going to make our constitutional system work."
The polls suggest many Americans see Congress as inefficient, paralyzed
by partisanship and consumed with political fundraising to ensure their
Opposition Democrats hope to exploit the negative public view of the
Republican-controlled Congress to make gains in the November midterm
But Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway warns that the public cynicism
about Congress extends to both parties.
"This feeling of anti-incumbency is not just anti-Republican
anti-incumbency or anti-Bush, it is really anti-Washington," she noted.
"It has to do with lobbyists, it has to do with fundraisers, it probably
has to do with pollsters, I hate to say."
Among those urging
changes in the way Congress conducts itself is former Republican House
Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"The failure to do effective, aggressive oversight disserves the
country and disserves the president because it means you are cutting off a
major feedback loop that says, it is not working," commented Gingrich.
Gingrich says the founders of the American republic saw Congress as the
most important of the three branches of government, acting as a check on
the president along with the judicial system.
Thomas Mann is a long time political scholar at the Brookings
Institution in Washington. He says the current Congress has ceded too much
power to the executive branch.
"The key is for each branch to push back when it feels as if the other
is exceeding its constitutional authority, and we have had no pushback.
And I think as a country, we have suffered as a consequence," he said.
Mann has co-authored a book with Norman Ornstein called, "The Broken
Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track."
One reason for the public's disillusionment with Congress is the fierce
partisanship that has characterized congressional debates for the past
"There is such a partisan tone up here that everybody gets caught in it
and it is very difficult for people to break out of it," said former
Republican Congressman John Kasich, who was a recent guest on VOA's Press
Conference USA program. "I don't think it is impossible to break out of
it. I broke out of it when I was here. And look, the best part of politics
is when you are fighting over ideas. The worst part of politics is when
you are fighting over power, and we are too interested in fighting over
Some political centrists argue the time is right to present an
alternative to voters. Hamilton Jordan served as chief of staff to former
President Jimmy Carter.
Jordan is part of an effort to draft a bipartisan presidential ticket
through the Internet for the 2008 presidential election.
"We are going after the large number of people in the middle who, like
me, have kind of sat back and not particularly cared for the choices they
have had in some of the recent national elections and that think they can
do better," he said.
Democrats believe the 2006 congressional elections are their best
chance to retake one or both chambers of Congress since Republicans took
control in 1994.
Former Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley is urging his party not to
try and exact political retribution should Democrats win in November.
"Democrats [should] clearly and intensely [promise] that if they take
the majority back again, they will not go back and try to pay back, so to
speak, what they felt were the excesses and even the outrages of this
period," said Foley. "But will promise minority rights in reaching those
Former House speakers Foley and Newt Gingrich were once bitter
But during a recent forum in Washington, the two men found common
ground in urging Congress to reform itself, de-emphasize fundraising and
do a better job of acting as a check on the executive branch.