ANDERSON – A Gallop Poll released in early March gave Congress its highest approval rating in 12 years.
Just to be clear, that means 36% of respondents actually approve of the job Congress is doing. Almost twice as many, 61%, say they disapprove.
And that’s an 11-point improvement from January when just 25% of respondents voiced approval and 71% said they disapproved.
Clearly, Americans don’t much like Congress. Gallop says the institution’s average approval rating over the last 16 years was 21%.
It’s not hard to figure out why. The gridlock in Washington is legendary. What with all the partisan bickering, the average voter gets the idea that almost nothing gets done.
So what can we do about it? A recent Facebook post captures the sentiment of many Americans.
“Since nobody reads 5,000-page bills,” it says, “let’s slip in term limits.”
The idea has enormous support.
A Gallup survey from January 2013 found three out of four Americans saying they would vote for term limits if given the chance. Subsequent surveys put the level of support even higher.
A Washington-based group called U.S. Term Limits released a survey last month in which 80% of respondents supported a constitutional amendment setting term limits.
“Congress was meant to be a citizen legislature,” the organization says in its online petition. “Our representatives were supposed to go to Washington, serve for a short time, then return to live under the laws they made.”
That doesn’t happen much the days.
“Congress is now a haven for career politicians who put their own power, perks and privileges ahead of public service,” the online petition says. “Even worse, they are impossible to unseat thanks to cozy connections with lobbyists and special interests. This broken system needs repair.”
The fix is to keep incumbents from settling in.
“If we do not act now,” the petition says, “we may never be able to bring back government of, by and for the people.”
This is not a partisan issue. That survey of 1,000 adults included 360 Republicans, 370 Democrats and 270 independents. More than 87% of Republicans supported term limits while Democrats were closer to 74% and independents were approaching 80%.
The Term Limits for U.S. Congress Political Action Committee has its own online petition featuring photos of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell along with their ages and the amount of time they’ve been in Congress.
“No one,” it says, “should have power over a nation for this long.”
And yet, when voters get a chance to impose their own term limits in an election, they send nearly all of the rascals back to Washington.
A Gallup survey last fall found that 60% of respondents believed their own member of Congress deserved to be reelected. That same survey found that 68% of respondents believed most members of Congress did not.
Such findings are common through history. Americans tend to like the folks they elect themselves. They’re not so fond of the folks everyone else elects.
Still, imposing term limits is not the way to fix Congress. If voters like their senators and representatives, they ought to be able to send those people back to Washington as many times as they want.
What will really fix Congress is to address some of its arcane procedures such as the Senate filibuster. We could also get rid of gerrymandering so that more congressional districts were truly competitive, forcing our representatives to inch toward the middle rather than pandering to the base. And then, of course, there’s campaign finance reform.
In other words, we need to create a legislative environment where compromise is a good thing and gridlock is a thing of the past.
Congress is clearly broken. It’s time to fix it.