Woodruff: America’s Growing Disillusion with Washington


If there was ever a time Americans would be justified in throwing their shoe — or something a lot heavier — at the TV set, radio or whatever device brings them the latest news from Washington (or the stock market, for that matter), now would be that moment.

After the debt ceiling debacle, the tug-of-war over Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the United States’ credit rating, and the wild gyrations that have followed with stocks, most in a downward direction, it’s no wonder only 24 percent of voters polled this week say most members of Congress deserve re-election, the lowest percentage since Gallup began asking the question in 1991.

President Obama does better: 47 percent in the same poll say he deserves re-election, but that’s in part because Republicans haven’t settled on their nominee yet. There’s plenty of criticism to be leveled at Wall Street for its role in causing the massive 2008 financial collapse that triggered the Great Recession the country is still trying to recover from. And there’s abundant evidence not everyone in the financial world has learned a lesson.

But lately, Washington has moved up to a close second in the line-up of culprits. Like children watching their parents fight, it’s painful to watch the institutions that are supposed to lead the country locked in a constant state of warfare, especially when ordinary people are hurting. When Congress went home for its August recess last week, points of agreement between Democrats and Republicans were almost non-existent. As I’ve blogged previously, the level of distrust has reached levels I haven’t seen in my three decades in Washington.

Yes, the two sides finally agreed to a two-step deficit reduction deal, but only after a bloody brawl — and the amount saved is a fraction of what the debt is scheduled to total in ten years. Hence the calls for the congressional “super committee” to double the $ 1.5 trillion in savings they’ve been charged to find. Other legislative proposals remain unresolved: one to enhance trade with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, helping many U.S. businesses, has languished for months, but is supposedly on a fast track for compromise when members of Congress return in September, according to what leaders announced before they split town.

That is the exception. A dispute over funding the Federal Aviation Administration has been only temporarily settled, and not soon enough to save the government millions in lost air travel taxes. Republicans in the Senate are withholding support for 20 Obama nominees to federal district and appellate court positions, with many more in the pipeline, exacerbating what the American Bar Association calls “a judicial crisis.”

With unemployment consistently over 9 percent for the past two years, it’s worth noting that this Congress has not addressed legislation focused on enhancing the climate for job creation, such as tax breaks for companies that add workers, an expanded manufacturing tax credit, or immigration reform for skilled workers to prompt innovation and new technology.

President Obama will hit the road in the Midwest next week, talking up the need to make hiring more attractive, and proposals like an “infrastructure bank” aimed at fixing the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges. But nothing will become law until after Congress returns from its break, and after the two warring sides can work through their distrust and disagreements.

Given this, is it any surprise that Americans are angry, disillusioned or just plain upset with the leaders they elected to office?

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