Congress has been at the center of most of the revolutions that have affected or will affect life in America now and over the next several decades. There is nothing new about that, but Congress has been unusually busy passing massive bills to change health care reform and financial reform at levels that have not been seen in decades. Congress also approved the massive TARP legislation, the $787 billion stimulus package, a $75 billion bill to help keep people in their homes, and new and higher ceilings on the national debt.
Congress has become the least trusted institution in America in exchange for all of that work. It ranks below perennially reviled groups such as “big business” and “banks” according to a recent Gallup poll. Confidence in Congress has fallen to the lowest level of any institution since Gallup began tracking the trends in 1973. The research firm’s most recent survey of the subject shows that 50% of Americans saying they have little or no confidence in Congress.The military is at the top of the “most trusted” list, perhaps because it does the bidding of the federal government. “Small business” ranks next, perhaps because it, as much as any group other than consumers, has been crippled by government and bank policies which have ignored it as a part of the economy that has been worth saving. “The police” is third on the list, a hard position to explain given the number of police beatings of citizens on YouTube.
“The presidency” lost the most support between the current July poll which is compared to a similar poll a year ago. Married together with Congress, the entire federal government is in disrepute.
Since Congress and the President have been the primary instruments of the legislative overhauls which will reshaped consumer credit regulation and a health care system that is supposed to be better for most Americans, it is a wonder that their standings so low. But, the two most visible branches of the federal government have created unprecedented deficits and a national debt that many people’s children will be paying a decade or more from now. There is also some chance that Americans did not think the reform would matter much since the government’s reform enforcement success has often been very low.
Americans may wonder why two large wars and a collapse of the credit system came when the government should not have allowed them to. Vigilance may be more important to Americans than a growing list of new legislation that has been signed into law by the President. They are just more laws that no one is likely to enforce. People are still being thrown out of their homes and cannot find work. By those measurements, Congress and the President have done almost nothing.
Note: Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 8-11, 2010, with a random sample of 1,020 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
Douglas A. McIntyre