Deadlocked Congress frustrates Americans

WASHINGTON — Congress is deadlocked over virtually every major issue still pending this year, including key economic matters such as a detailed federal spending plan and extending Bush-era tax cuts, yet lawmakers still hope to leave Washington by Friday and not return until mid-November.

Chances are they'll approve a stopgap budget to keep the government running, perhaps vote on extending the Bush administration tax cuts and call it a day. This desire to punt on the day's biggest issue could be one more reason for voters to turn against incumbents of both parties in November.

"The public is not concerned about the specifics of the process breakdown. They just know things aren't working, either in Congress or the economy, and they want things fixed," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.

Analysts think Republicans have a decent chance to gain the 39 seats the party needs to take control of the House of Representatives, and an outside chance of a net gain of the 10 Senate seats needed to control that chamber.

Members of Congress, who returned to Washington on Sept. 13 after taking off most of August and early September, clearly want to return home to fight for their political lives. Last week, Congress produced one major piece of legislation as the House voted, largely along party lines, to send President Obama a small-business relief bill.

The Senate, however, failed to end debate — and thus delayed indefinitely — efforts to revamp some immigration laws and consider the "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military. It also postponed consideration of defense policy legislation until after the election.

What the public sees, polls and experts say, is a Congress that's unable to get vital work done at a time when most surveys find that about 60 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

The McClatchy-Marist poll, taken Sept. 14-16, found that 52 percent of Americans think the worst is yet to come economically, while 44 percent said the worst is behind us. More than half — 56 percent — said they disapprove of how Obama is handling the economy. The survey of 1,005 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Other surveys this month put Congress's disapproval ratings at 70 percent or higher. People don't understand why the institution is so awash in finger-pointing rhetoric, particularly on economic matters.

"Everybody else has to have some kind of household budget. Everybody understands that," said Merle Black, a professor of politics and government at Emory University in Atlanta.