When national surveys are released showing Congress’ approval rating dropping to depths unseen since the advent of modern polling, the first thought is to marvel at the public’s revulsion towards the institution. The second thought asks, “Wait, Congress has an approval rating above zero? Who are these strange people who are still satisfied with Capitol Hill?”
Yesterday, we heard from one of those rare Americans who believes Congress not only works, but is worthy of a defense. It happened to be House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Boehner … defended Congress against its low approval rating of 9 percent. “The Congress has never been popular with the American people,” he said.
“The founders gave us a committee of 535 people. Frankly, it was designed not to work. My job is to make it work. And it is working,” he added.
I can understanding Boehner looking at the branch with some institutional pride, but to say Congress is “working” — and to deliver the line with a straight face — is to ignore reality.
Not only have we never seen a Congress with such a low approval rating, we’ve also never seen a Congress quite this dysfunctional. A year after massive Republican gains in the 2010 midterms, what do lawmakers have to show for themselves? Five resignations, zero jobs bills, two near-shutdowns (with a third looming), a debt-ceiling fiasco, no major legislative accomplishments, and the first-ever downgrade of U.S. debt, attributed almost entirely to the antics of Boehner’s Republican caucus.
A couple of months ago, after Congress passed a temporary extension that avoided a government shutdown, I wrote, “At this point, the political world is relieved when federal policymakers struggle to just barely complete the most basic tasks. We’ve set the bar for success so low, avoiding shutdowns is somehow deemed an accomplishment. Also note, this isn’t going to get better — as the election season draws closer, it’s going to get worse.”
I still think that’s true. Passing meaningful legislation is currently a pipe dream, if not literally laughable. The very best we can hope for from Congress is that lawmakers manage to keep the government up and running, without (deliberately or accidentally) making conditions worse.
If Boehner sees this as evidence of a legislative branch that’s “working,” he’s either living in a dream world or his standards are badly in need of revision.