October 24, 2013

Editorial: Voters seem to forget


---- — Americans are more than disenchanted with Congress.

Other words come to mind, for most people: disgusted, flabbergasted. Never in the history of this nation have Americans been less pleased with their representatives.

The latest affront is the 16-day government shutdown that Congress and the president were unable to end until the absolute 11th hour.

What the nation wants to know is how intelligent adults who have been given responsibility for running America can fail to find agreement on their most basic assignment — creating a budget — until pushed to the edge of national disaster.

An Associated Press Poll two weeks before the last week of the congressional folly found the approval rating had plunged to an unprecedented 10 percent. During the last week, it had fallen still further — to a humiliating 5 percent.

It’s actually surprising that even 5 percent approve of their performance. What American could answer a pollster’s phone call and honestly answer, “Yes, I’m satisfied with the job Congress is doing.”

Yet, even more astonishing is this: If history is any barometer, almost all members of Congress will be re-elected when the time comes.

In 2012, 90 percent of House members and 91 percent of senators who sought re-election were successful, exceeding the incumbent re-election rates of 2010, when 85 percent of House members and 84 percent of senators seeking re-election were successful. For senators, last year’s re-election percentage was the highest since 2004.

Voters were more likely to return their own representatives to office, even though the public had a dim view of the legislative branch as a whole. Congress had a 21 percent approval rating then. Yet members were returned to office.

Money is the big factor, as usual. Not only do incumbents generally have access to far more campaign money than their opponents, mostly because of the influence they can market, they often manage to get large sums of government money committed to important local projects they can crow about at campaign time. Even during the recent fiasco, money for many local projects was thrown into the budget despite the crisis.

Another factor is that members of Congress will have time to return home and assure constituents that they had local interests at heart but that others were selfish and refused to budge.

The next election cycle will be interesting to monitor, but, if history is any teacher, few members of Congress will have to pay the price for their woeful performance.