April 2013 Gallup Poll
Last week, the law firm I work for hosted our annual Spring Forum with over 400 school administrators in attendance. While a majority of our conference focuses on specific federal grants management concerns, we also offer a legislative update that covers Congressional issues as well as federal agency matters. To open the session, our Legislative Director spoke for a few minutes about the current Congressional approval rating.
The most recent Congress (112th) passed the fewest laws of any Congress before it, looking back as far as 1948. Unsurprisingly, this inability to get anything done has earned Congress an abysmal approval rating of 15% as of April 2013. Public Policy Polling released a poll earlier this year detailing how Congress is less popular than cockroaches, Nickelback, colonoscopies, and root canals. Congress is even less popular than the NFL replacement refs from the 2012 season. Ouch.
Its not that previous Congresses were so productive, its just that since 2011, Congress has been especially unproductive. Lawmakers came so close to allowing government loans to default in the Summer of 2011 that our nation’s credit rating was lowered. After that near miss, Congress gave itself the opportunity to bounce back by creating the Deficit Super Committee. This super committee was intended to craft a bipartisan deficit reduction plan. It ultimately failed. This failure prompted automatic spending cuts, known as “sequestration.”
Meanwhile, annual spending bills are consistently passed well after the start of each new fiscal year, the two parties cannot come to terms on a fix to sequestration, and there are countless reauthorizations that remain unfinished. I work in an area of law that focuses on federal education and job training programs. In this field, some major pieces of legislation have been waiting at least 10 years to be reauthorized, but Congress cannot agree on the terms of those reauthorizations.
Because I live and work in the DC metro area, many friends and family members back in the Midwest always ask me why Congress can’t get it together (as if I have some inside scoop). The sad truth is that the most useful tool for an elected official to get reelected is to convince voters that the opposition party is either wrong or unwilling to compromise. This is effective mainly because it is the extreme right and/or left members of the voting public that are most involved in the political process. As such, there is little motivation to reach agreements on any legislative issue. It is easier to blame the other side for logjam than it is to defend legislation that compromises between two (or more) different sets of ideas.
Will things ever get any better? Not unless we have another national tragedy/emergency. Looking at the last 12 years, the only times the two parties have come together is after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the economic downturn in the Fall of 2008. In both cases, the unity between the parties only lasted as long as it was convenient. As sad as it sounds, our national leaders are only willing to compromise when circumstances dictate that they have no other viable options. So who is at fault?
Democrats believe Republicans are to blame. Republicans believe Democrats are to blame. While both parties are culpable, the real blame lies with the voters. If the voting public was truly informed and involved, it would be nearly impossible to have a Congress with a 15% approval rating. Instead, American citizens either fail to exercise their Constitutional right to vote or cast their vote without really understanding the candidates they vote for or the issues those candidates will face.
Unfortunately, there is no external cure for this. Many non-profit and other groups exist with the sole purpose of informing voters on the issues. I believe the old adage is “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Until the moderate majority of the country decides to educate themselves and get involved, the current hyper-partisan environment will remain unchanged. If anyone has intelligent solutions, I am all ears.