Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor: The People and Their Government

It seems like nearly everybody is unhappy with the current state of affairs.

From The Pew Research Center:

Overview

By almost every conceivable measure Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days. A new Pew Research Center survey finds a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government – a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.

Rather than an activist government to deal with the nation’s top problems, the public now wants government reformed and growing numbers want its power curtailed. With the exception of greater regulation of major financial institutions, there is less of an appetite for government solutions to the nation’s problems – including more government control over the economy – than there was when Barack Obama first took office.

The public’s hostility toward government seems likely to be an important election issue favoring the Republicans this fall. However, the Democrats can take some solace in the fact that neither party can be confident that they have the advantage among such a disillusioned electorate. Favorable ratings for both major parties, as well as for Congress, have reached record lows while o pposition to congressional incumbents, already approaching an all-time high, continues to climb.

The Tea Party movement, which has a small but fervent anti-government constituency, could be a wild card in this election. On one hand, its sympathizers are highly energized and inclined to vote Republican this fall. On the other, many Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the Tea Party represents their point of view better than does the GOP.

These are the principal findings from a series of surveys that provide a detailed picture of the public’s opinions about government. The main survey, conducted March 11-21 among 2,505 adults, was informed by surveys in 1997 and 1998 that explored many of the same questions and issues. While a majority also distrusted the federal government in those surveys, criticism of government had declined from earlier in the decade. And the public’s desire for government services and activism was holding steady.

This is not the case today. Just 22% say they can trust the government in Washington almost always or most of the time, among the lowest measures in half a century. About the same percentage (19%) says they are “basically content” with the federal government, which is largely unchanged from 2006 and 2007, but lower than a decade ago.

Opinions about elected officials are particularly poor. In a follow-up survey in early April, just 25% expressed a favorable opinion of Congress, which was virtually unchanged from March (26%), prior to passage of the health care reform bill. This is the lowest favorable rating for Congress in a quarter century of Pew Research Center surveys. Over the last year, favorable opinions of Congress have declined by half – from 50% to 25%.

While job ratings for the Obama administration are mostly negative, they are much more positive than the ratings for Congress; 40% say the administration does an excellent or good job while just 17% say the same about Congress.

Federal agencies and institutions also are viewed much more positively than is Congress. Nonetheless, favorable ratings have fallen significantly since 1997-1998 for seven of 13 federal agencies included in the survey. The declines have been particularly large for the Department of Education, the FDA, the Social Security Administration, as well as the EPA, NASA and the CDC. In terms of job performance, majorities give positive ratings to just six of 15 agencies or institutions tested, including the military (80% good/excellent) and the Postal Service (70%).

As was the case in the 1997 study of attitudes about government, more people say the bigger problem with government is that it runs its programs inefficiently (50%) than that it has the wrong priorities (38%). But the percentage saying government has the wrong priorities has increased sharply since 1997 – from 29% to 38%.

Perhaps related to this trend, the survey also finds a rise in the percentage saying the federal government has a negative effect on their day-to-day lives. In October 1997, 50% said the federal government had a positive effect on their daily lives, compared with 31% who said its impact was negative. Currently, 38% see the federal government’s personal impact as positive while slightly more (43%) see it as negative.

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Length of Congressional Bills Is A Problem for All Americans (Including Those Who Claim ‘Planet Earth’ As Their Residence)

From CNSNews:

More than 80 percent of Americans agree that Congress drafts lengthy, complex bills to hide spending on special interests and to prevent constituents from understanding what’s in them before a vote is taken, according to a new survey.

According to a Zogby poll conducted last week, 83.5 percent of respondents agreed at least “somewhat” with the lengthy-bill premise, and 61.2 percent of Americans agreed strongly. Only 14.4 percent disagreed, and just 5.8 percent did so strongly. 

The question Zogby asked was: “Some contend that the reason federal legislation is often thousands of pages long is because provisions to benefit special interests can be more easily buried in long bills, and so citizens cannot decipher the legislative language quickly enough to be able to communicate support or opposition to their Senators or Members of Congress before a vote is taken. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with this opinion?”
 
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Senator introduces Constitutional amendment requiring term limits

This is a great idea. It would help to rid our country of the corruption that comes with being a career politician.

From TheHill:

A Republican senator on Tuesday introduced a Constitutional amendment that would mandate term limits for all federal lawmakers.

Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) amendment would limit House members to three terms and senators to two terms. House members then could serve no longer than six years and Senators twelve years in the same office. DeMint said term limits are a reaction to the influence of special interest groups on Capitol Hill, corruption, high federal deficits, and a Democratic agenda he says will increase the size of government.

“Americans know real change in Washington will never happen until we end the era of permanent politicians,” said DeMint in a statement. “As long as members have the chance to spend their lives in Washington, their interests will always skew toward…amassing their own power.”

Two thirds of the House and Senate as well as three quarters of the states would need to vote for DeMint’s amendment for it to become a part of the Constitution.

Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), and kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) cosponsored the bill. Coburn has long supported term limits. He retired from the House in 2000 after being elected in 1994, pledging only to serve three consecutive terms.

Coburn then ran for Senate and won in 2004. Brownback is stepping down from the Senate in 2010 to run for governor, citing his support for term limits. Hutchison is running for governor against incumbent Rick Perry (R), who is running for a third term in 2010. If elected, Perry will become the longest serving governor in Texas history.

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White House to Keep Obama’s ‘Czars’ from Testifying Before Congress

From CNSNews:

(CNSNews.com) – The White House is not going to allow the president’s newly created “czars” to testify before Congress.

White House Counsel Greg Craig has indicated that he will refuse to allow any of the 18 new “czar” positions created by President Obama to testify before Congress, according to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Collins revealed during a committee hearing Thursday that she had spoken with Craig, who had earlier sent a letter on behalf of the president, and that Craig told her persoanlly that Congress would not get a chance to ask fundamental questions of the czars about their roles and responsibilities.

“Indeed, yesterday when I was talking to Greg Craig, the president’s legal counsel, he made it very clear that the White House would prohibit any of these officials with significant policy responsibility from coming to testify before us if they are located within the Executive Office of the President,” Collins said in her written opening statement.

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Senate Finance Committee Falsely Claims It Posted ‘Full Text’ of Bill Online

From CNSNews:

(CNSNews.com) – The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), claimed it posted the “full text” of its health care reform bill, “America’s Healthy Future Act,” on its Web site. But when users clicked the link to read the proposed law, they could only access a 259-page document that included summaries of both current law and the proposed legislation–or what some senators called a “plain English” version of the bill.
 
The actual “legislative language” of the bill–the words that would become the law of the land if the bill were enacted–is not available to the public and apparently has not even been written.

Nonetheless, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the plain text summary of the bill on Oct. 7, cautiously estimating its cost at $829 billion. The members of the committee voted the bill out of the committee based on the summary on Tuesday, 14-9, picking up only one Republican vote, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

While the committee released a memorandum to reporters and  editors on Oct. 2 claiming had released the “full text of the America’s Healthy Future Act,” the link attached to the online version of the memorandum led to the summary–not an actual legislative text–and the CBO’s Oct. 7 “preliminary analysis” of the bill contradictng the committee’s claim that it had released the “full text.” 

“The Chairman’s mark, as amended, has not yet been converted into legislative language,” said the CBO. “The review of such language could lead to significant changes in the estimates of the proposal’s effects on the federal budget and insurance coverage.”
 
On Sept. 22, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told the Senate Finance Committee, “We’ve told all the people who’ve asked that it will take us about two weeks to do a formal cost estimate after we have a full bill, but we can do an updated preliminary analysis quicker than that.”

At that same hearing, Sen. Baucus said: “I just have to tell you, Mr. Elmendorf, this is a very serious concern of this committee, to urge you to with all deliberate speed make sure that you address the scoring of this bill and the modifications and give us a preliminary as soon as you can. … I can’t overemphasize how important this point is.”

In February, Congress posted the complete legislative text of the economic stimulus bill less than 24 hours before it voted on the legislation. This was the actual legislative text of the bill–the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009–that would become law, unlike the health care summary posted by the Senate Finance Committee. 

The summary that the committee posted provides descriptions of current law and the proposed law, and includes several edits that senators made during committee debate.
 
By comparison, the version of the health care bill produced by three committees is in the form of legislative language and is more than 1,000 pages long.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, told CNSNews.com that the committee has always worked with a plain-language version of the bill rather than with the actual legislative language of the proposed law.
 
CNSNews.com asked Bingaman, “Will you read the entire text of the health care bill before the Finance Committee votes on it?”
 
Bingaman said: “I expect to. I’ve been reading it as we went along. I think–well, the truth is the Finance Committee is going to try to report a version that is based on the plain language of the bill. And then, as I understand it, that will be turned into legislative language, which then will be combined with the legislative language that’s come out of the HELP Committee and presented to the full Senate as a complete text.”
 
CNSNews.com also asked Bingaman: “So, the entire text of the bill is what you will have access to and you will read before you vote on it, or just the conceptual language?”
 
He answered: “I think the plain language version, it’s not just conceptual. It’s a plain language description of the various provisions of the bill is what the Senate Finance Committee has always done when it passes legislation, and then that is turned into legislative language which is what is presented to the full Senate for consideration.”

Senator Thomas Carper (D-Del.), who also serves on the Finance Committee, told CNSNews.com that legislative language is “incomprehensible.”

“I don’t expect to actually read the legislative language because reading the legislative language is among the more confusing things I’ve ever read in my life,” he said. “We, we write in this committee and legislate with plain English and I think most of us can understand most of that.”
 
“When you get into the legislative language, Senator Conrad actually read some of it, several pages of it, the other day and I don’t think anybody had a clue–including people who have served on this committee for decades–what he was talking about,” said Carper.

When Republicans tried on Sept. 23 to amend the proposed bill to allow its complete legislative language to be posted online for the American people to read for at least 72 hours before the committee voted on it, the Democrats defeated the amendment. 

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said at the time, “Let’s be honest about it, most people don’t read the legislative language.”
 
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said: “I remember sitting on the dais when President Obama was inaugurated and gave his inaugural speech where he talked about the importance of transparency in government. He said ‘transparency breeds accountability and builds public confidence.’ 
 
“ … For a bill – most of which will not be implemented until 2013 – it is not an inconvenience, it is not something we ought to overlook, the opportunity to get the American people to be able to read it and get a full score. I’ve heard a lot of discussion at town hall meetings and elsewhere. People are mad about Congress voting on things we haven’t even read.
 
“I don’t know how anybody can be held accountable or build public confidence if we don’t have the information, and the American people don’t have the information, to make their own evaluation, to ask questions and hold us accountable.”

Congressional Leaders Fight Against Posting Bills Online

There goes the transparency we were promised. If people actually knew what was in the bills they were passing, they would be in the streets every day. Better to keep us ignorant by not letting us have the opportunity to see what is actually in the bills being voted on.

From Educate-Yourself.org:

By Susan Ferrechia, Chief Congressional Correspondent
http://educate-yourself.org/cn/congressleadersopposebillsonline06oct09.shtml
October 6, 2009

Forward courtesy of Frank Ani, Jr

Congressional Leaders Fight Against Posting Bills Online (Oct. 6, 2009)

As Congress lurches closer to a decision on an enormous overhaul of the American health care system, pressure is mounting on legislative leaders to make the final bill available online for citizens to read before a vote. Lawmakers were given just hours to examine the $789 billion stimulus plan, sweeping climate change legislation and a $700 billion bailout package before final votes. While most Americans normally ignore parliamentary detail, with health care looming, voters are suddenly paying attention. The Senate is expected to vote on a health bill in the weeks to come, representing months of work and stretching to hundreds of pages. And as of now, there is no assurance that members of the public, or even the senators themselves, will be given the chance to read the legislation before a vote.”The American people are now suspicious of not only the lawmakers, but the process they hide behind to do their work,” said Michael Franc, president of government relations for the Heritage Foundation, a
conservative think tank.

At town hall meetings across the country this past summer, the main topic was health care, but there was a strong undercurrent of anger over the way Congress rushed through passage of the stimulus, global warming and bank bailout bills without seeming to understand the consequences. The stimulus bill, for example, was 1,100 pages long and made available to Congress and the public just 13 hours before lawmakers voted on it.
The bill has failed to provide the promised help to the job market, and there was outrage when it was discovered that the legislation included an amendment allowing American International Group, a bailout recipient, to give out millions in employee bonuses.”If someone had a chance to look at the bill, they would have found that out,” said Lisa Rosenberg, who lobbies Congress on behalf of the Sunlight Foundation to bring more transparency to government. The foundation has begun an effort to get Congress to post bills online, for all to see, 72 hours before lawmakers vote on them.

“It would give the public a chance to really digest and understand what is in the bill,” Rosenberg said, “and communicate whether that is a good or a bad thing while there is still time to fix it.”

What you don’t know can hurt you:

» House energy and global warming bill, passed June 26, 2009. 1,200 pages. Available online 15 hours before vote.

» $789 billion stimulus bill, passed Feb. 14, 2009. 1,100 pages. Available online 13 hours before debate.

» $700 billion financial sector rescue package, passed Oct. 3, 2008. 169 pages. Available online 29 hours before vote.

» USA Patriot domestic surveillance bill, passed Oct. 23, 2001. Unavailable to the public before debate.

A similar effort is under way in Congress. Reps. Brian Baird, D‐Wash., and Greg Walden, R‐Ore., are circulating a petition among House lawmakers that would force a vote on the 72 hour rule. Nearly every Republican has signed on, but the Democratic leadership is unwilling to cede control over when bills are brought to the floor for votes and are discouraging their rank and file from signing the petition. Senate Democrats voted down a similar measure last week for the health care bill. The reluctance to implement a three day rule is not unique to the Democrats. The Republican majority rushed through the controversial Patriot Act in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as well as a massive Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003 that added hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit.

For the majority party, legislative timing plays a big role in whether a bill will pass because support can be fleeting.”The leaders use it as a tool to get votes or to keep amendments off a bill,” said one top Senate Democratic aide. But Baird warned of public backlash.

“Democrats know politically it’s difficult to defend not doing this,” he said. “The public gets this. They say we entrust you with the profound responsibility of making decisions that affect our lives, and we expect you to exercise due diligence in carrying out that responsibility.”

House cuts workweek to 2 1/2 days

That’s not much time to do all the things they claim to want to do to ‘fix’ America.

From Raw Story:

By John Byrne
Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

In theory, the best job in American politics is the President of the United States.

But the president’s now got some competition: House Representative. The Democratic-led House — in the middle of the biggest healthcare fight in a generation — has now trimmed their workweek to just two and a half days, leaving members of Congress plenty of time to ski or play golf.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) promised after the Democrats won the House in 2006 and then after Obama’s election this year that the House would hold longer workweeks. But as the fall of 2009 wanes, the House has taken to starting on Tuesdays at 6:30 pm and adjourning “before the sun goes down” on Thursdays.

That certainly wasn’t Hoyer’s tune in 2006, when he claimed that congressmembers were going to have to work five days a week.

“I have bad news for you,” Hoyer told reporters after the Democrats took over the chamber. “Those trips you had planned in January, forget ’em. We will be working almost every day in January, starting with the 4th.”

The Washington Post blared this headline Dec. 6, 2006: “Culture Shock on Capitol Hill: House to Work 5 Days a Week.”

But since the House returned from recess on Sept. 8 of this year, it has stuck around to vote on a Friday just once. For what? Approving an a 5.8 percent increase in Congress’ budget.

Republican lawmakers accuse Democrats of hypocrisy, as the liberal party had previously accused conservatives of having lackadaisical work schedules when they were in power. Not everyone is turned off, however.

“Two and a half days a week is plenty of time to consider the ideas coming out of this Democrat-led House,” Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), once a power-broker for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), told Politico. “Imagine the damage they could do with five-day workweeks.”

House Democrats say they’re not holding many votes because the legislation they’ve already passed is backed up in the Senate. The Democrat-led House has already approved climate change “carbon cap” legislation and a plan to reform Americans’ healthcare options.

Hoyer spokesman Katie Grant invoked autumn leaves in her defense of congressmembers’ curtailed hours.

“Every fall we can count [on] two things: The leaves change colors, and stories on the floor schedule change from Congress doing too much to [Congress] doing too little,” Grant told Politico. “In fact, we have spent a great deal of time in session and gotten a tremendous amount of work done this year, and members are continuing to work both in Washington and their districts.”