Stop Saying You Hate "Congress"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 8 2013 5:31 PM

Stop Saying You Hate "Congress"

Public Policy Polling is out with another one of its patented troll-polls, which ask voters a number of ridiculous questions to reveal just how little faith they have in politics. The lede: "Nickelback, cockroaches, lice all more popular than Congress." People really hate Congress!

But they don't just generically hate Congress. The Washington Post's latest poll, also released today, asked registered voters whether they approved of their various representatives' work on the "fiscal cliff." By a 15-point margin, 52-37, they approved of Barack Obama. By a 20-point margin, 51-31, they disapproved of John Boehner. I can't read all of the subjects' minds, but I'd guess they noticed how Boehner's House Republicans were the main impediment to a "grand bargain" in 2011 and a mini-bargain in 2012. If they didn't noticed, they got a reminder when the House denied the necessary votes to Boehner's "Plan B." There was some kind of deal, and the Republicans nixed it.

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Jonathan Chait puts it well in his latest post:

Obama’s negotiating position is exactly the same as the centrists. If they believed that the $600 billion in revenue Obama secured, on top of the $1.5 trillion in spending cuts agreed to in 2011, was enough revenue, and Obama was demanding an excessively revenue-heavy solution to the deficit issue, then obviously they should argue as much. But they do not believe that. In fact, the Bowles-Simpson plan would raise far more revenue than Obama is asking for. One party stands completely in accord with their position, and it has not happened entirely because the other party stands against it.

There's no evidence that the cuts in a theoretical bargain would actually be popular. Last week, when Boehner presented his conference with a poll testing the juice of the cuts-for-debt-hike idea (popular), he found that specifics reforms to entitlements were dicey; we know from 2005 that these reforms lose steam as the debates go on.

But there's plenty of evidence that voters distinguish between players in Congress. The idea that they just hate the whole body, full stop, is on net good for Republicans: It lets 'em off.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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