Making Congress Responsible

Main St. Agenda by from National Affairs, Spring 2015

American politics is a puzzling muddle, and it is hard to make sense of its various, seemingly contradictory trends. Democrats have won the past two presidential elections convincingly, and they are persuaded that inevitable demographic changes are set to power them to an unprecedented majority coalition. Republicans in response can point to numerous contrary indicators, such as consistent opposition to Obamacare and the GOP’s wave of victories across the country in 2014 that, among other things, cemented Republicans’ control of the House of Representatives. The country as a whole, meanwhile, says it is sick and tired of partisan gridlock but stubbornly refuses to break it, instead splitting its ticket for most of the last decade.

Despite the muddle, however, one thing is abundantly clear: Americans today downright hate Congress. To be sure, Congress has rarely been beloved over the last 50 years. During much of the Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton administrations, its job approval rarely exceeded 40%, excepting the economic boom years of 1998 to 2000. The attacks of 9/11 generated a spike in congressional job approval, but since then it has more or less been steadily declining. Gallup’s reading in early September 2014 found that just 14% of Americans approved of Congress’s job performance.

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