Poll: Public Losing Patience With New Congress

By David Lightman |

WASHINGTON — Once again, the public is getting increasingly disgusted with Washington.

It sees a failure to adopt remedies for even the most basic, pressing issues of the day, as Congress struggles to craft a federal budget. And incumbents are getting worried about the political implications.

“It’s hurting some of us,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who’s up for re-election next year. “They blame everybody.”

A new Pew Research Center poll shows that about half of Americans think the debate over spending and deficits has been “generally rude and disrespectful.”

There’s even bipartisan agreement — 48 percent of Republicans and Democrats have that view, as well as 57 percent of independents. President Barack Obama signed legislation Friday to provide funding to keep the government open until April 8, the sixth such temporary extension in the 6-month-old fiscal year.

Pew surveyed 1,525 adults from March 8-14. The poll’s findings suggest the political losers so far have been Republicans, who rode a wave of voter irritation to win control of the House of Representatives last fall.

After the election, 35 percent said Republicans had a better approach to the deficit, expected to reach a record $1.65 trillion this year. This month, that number has plunged to 21 percent.

People don’t think Obama has better ideas, either — 20 percent found his approach better, down from November’s 24 percent. Total sample margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The most restless constituency has involved supporters of the conservative tea party movement. After the November election, where backers helped elect dozens of congressional Republicans, three of four movement supporters liked GOP budget plans. This month that figure dropped to 52 percent.

“People are growing impatient,” said Carroll Doherty, Pew associate director.

They’ve been impatient for years. In 2006, voters gave Democrats control of both Houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years. Two years later, Obama, a Democrat, reclaimed the White House for his party after eight years of Republican George W. Bush. Last year, Republicans reclaimed control of the House.

“The American public is getting tired of change elections and then not seeing change. There have been three change elections in a row, but people today figure things are still adrift,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducts the McClatchy-Marist poll.

Political veterans are scrambling to educate their constituents about the deliberate pace of Washington.

“People should understand we do things in baby steps,” said Tea Party Express co-founder Sal Russo, of Sacramento, Calif. “We have to remind people that while we just had a historic election, the reality is, we’re woefully short of 60 votes in the Senate.” Democrats control 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats.

But Russo’s fighting a world where the public can get instant, nonstop, unfiltered access to Congress and commentary.

Republicans had benefited from that openness during the two-year fight over overhauling the nation’s health care system. Procedural delays forced major votes to occur after midnight, and in one case, at dawn on Christmas Eve.

GOP opponents used what looked like procedural chaos to portray Democrats as unable to run Congress effectively. Now, though, it’s Republicans who are in charge of the House, and they’re feeling the heat.