Everybody Hates Congress

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are joined by other Senate Democrats at a press conference in the Capitol in May.

If the President feels bad about the nation's opinion of him—a meager 25% of those surveyed in a June Gallup poll approve of Bush's performance—all he needs to do is pick up that same poll and keep reading. According to Gallup, just 14% of people express confidence in the current Congress. That's the lowest measure in the 34 years Gallup has been tracking government institutions.

Given that the Democrats took control of Congress just six months ago—surfing into power, in part, on a wave of dissatisfaction with Republicans—it's worth asking: how on earth did this Congress become so loathed so quickly?

Democrats won the house on a platform of change, but after six months voters across the political spectrum have lost patience waiting for specific evidence of it. Lefties are unhappy the war isn't over. Environmentalists are angry at the delayed energy bill. Unions hated the now-dead immigration bill. Seniors want their drug prices lowered. Every voter—regardless of party—wants the House ethics rules changed. "We're not satisfied with the pace of change, but we are going in a different direction than the Republican set," says Rahm Emanuel, the architect of the 2006 House takeover. "Now, we have things we have to do to both look better and alter people's perspective—no doubt about it."

Party leaders started realizing they were in trouble roughly a month ago, when a Quinippiac University poll put their approval rating at what now seems like a robust 23%. At the same time, members began hearing complaints from constituents as talk radio labeled them a "Do Nothing Congress" and Republican leaders, for the first time since the election, felt emboldened. "Congressional Democrats campaigned on restoring the bonds of trust between the American people and their elected leaders, but the fact is they have failed to deliver on any of their promises and have almost no accomplishments of which to speak," House Minority Leader John Boehner told TIME. "Their inability to govern is making it increasingly clear that there's a real crisis in leadership on Capitol Hill because nothing is getting accomplished."

Of course, if you trip over a year-old newspaper the odds are you'd find Nancy Pelosi saying almost the same thing about Dennis Hastert's congress. As a body, the House has never been famed for its celerity. But in the last six months Democrats have passed just one major piece of legislation into law: the emergency funding bill for the war in Iraq, signed by Bush only after Democrats stripped out a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops.

Anticipating that the funding bill might be their only passable vehicle for a while, Democrats packed the measure with funding for veterans' programs, Katrina recovery, children's healthcare and the first increase in minimum wage in 10 years. When the supplemental was made into law, Republican critics labeled all of the non-war related items pork. When Democrats passed a budget, Republicans called it "the biggest tax increase in U.S. history" even though the resolution didn't increase a single tax.

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