Congress wasn’t popular when Republicans shut down the government in the mid-90s. It wasn’t popular when Republicans impeached President Clinton. It wasn’t popular when the economy crashed in 2008.

But it hasn’t been this unpopular in my lifetime.

The debate over raising the debt ceiling, which brought the nation to the brink of default, has sent disapproval of Congress to its highest level on record and left most Americans saying that creating jobs should now take priority over cutting spending, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

A record 82 percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job — the most since The Times first began asking the question in 1977, and even more than after another political stalemate led to a shutdown of the federal government in 1995.

The poll, conducted after the debt-ceiling agreement was signed into law, shows that the deal hasn’t gone over well with the public, and voters blame Republicans for the fiasco. Asked, “Who do you blame more for the difficulties in reaching an agreement on the debt ceiling?” a 47% plurality pointed the finger at the GOP, while 29% blamed the president and congressional Democrats.

As has been the case in all recent polls, no one in Washington enjoys broad support right now. But it’s Republicans who are hemorrhaging public support. In fact, despite Americans’ frustrations — about everything — President Obama’s approval rating in this new poll actually inched a little higher since June, reaching 48%.

The so-called Tea Party “movement” isn’t faring nearly as well — a 40% plurality has an unfavorable opinion of Tea Partiers, a new high, while a 43% plurality believes the “movement” has too much influence over the Republican Party, up from 27% a few months ago.

But the results that should matter most to policymakers are right here:

“Which of these should be the higher priority for the nation right now: cutting government spending or creating jobs?”

Cutting spending: 29%
Creating jobs: 62%

It’s not just that Republicans are unpopular; and it’s not just that the mainstream believes Republicans are too focused on playing politics and too unwilling to compromise. The real issue here is that the entire Republican agenda in Washington is based on a specific goal — which happens to be the opposite of what voters want.

If congressional GOP leaders really wanted to improve their standing and improve their chances of keeping their jobs next year, they’d call the West Wing this morning and offer to work on an expansive jobs bill.

That won’t happen, of course, since it would betray everything Republicans believe and hold dear, but GOP leaders should nevertheless realize the course they’re on isn’t doing them any favors politically.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.