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Obama capitalizes on lagging approval ratings for Congress

September 13, 2011|By Michael Muskal
  • President Obama gives a speech on his jobs bill at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va., Friday. Obama is urging voters to get behind his new jobs bill and pressure lawmakers to pass it, delivering the message on the home turf of one of his chief GOP antagonists.
President Obama gives a speech on his jobs bill at the University of Richmond… (Steve Helber / Associated…)

In pushing for his jobs program, President Obama has put Congress right in the crosshairs, urging voters to pressure their lawmakers into acting quickly to pass the administration’s package.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the president may have found an easy target since Congress continues to enjoy exceptionally low approval ratings, far worse than Obama’s own.

Congressional job approval is now 15%, up slightly from the record-tying low of 13% recorded in August, Gallup reported this week. Disapproval was at 82%, compared with 84% last month. By comparison, Obama’s approval rating has been running at about 40%.

In general, Americans usually are unhappy with Congress with the average approval rating since 1974 running at about 34%, according to Gallup. Still, that makes the current unhappy standing about twice the historical one. Last month’s 13% approval rating tied the record low from December 2010.

The latest Gallup results are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 adults conducted Sept. 8 to 11. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

To be sure, a lagging economy has put Americans in a foul mood right now, and almost anything associated with government scores poorly in polls. For example, the federal government placed last in a survey of 25 business and industry sectors, with just 17% saying they had a positive image of the federal government. Almost two-thirds, 63% said they had a negative image, according to Gallup.

But the current ongoing battle over jobs and the economy pits the presidency against Congress in a different way. Obama has become more feisty even as faith in Congress has fallen.

“This is the bill that Congress needs to pass,” Obama said this week about his jobs package, continuing a refrain that will likely mark his visits to Ohio on Tuesday and North Carolina on Wednesday. “No games. No politics. No delays. I’m sending this bill to Congress …and they ought to pass it immediately.”

“When things are going well, you play politics,” the president said later. “It’s not OK at a time of great urgency and need all across the country. These aren’t games we’re playing out here. Folks are out of work. Businesses are having trouble staying open. You’ve got a world economy that is full of uncertainty right now -- in Europe, in the Middle East. Some events may be beyond our control, but this is something we can control. Whether we not -- whether or not we pass this bill, whether or not we get this done, that’s something that we can control. That’s in our hands.”

But despite the poor showing of Congress in general, Republicans aren’t set to give in the president. They argue that the funding for the Obama jobs package is the equivalent of a tax increase because it includes ideas such as changing itemization and deductions for the wealthy and changing depreciation and depletion allowances. Those are proposals that the GOP has rejected before.

In comments on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the Obama jobs and funding proposals more political than economic.

“Over the past few days, press reports have made it perfectly clear that this legislation is more of a reelection plan than a jobs plan. It’s an open secret which Democrats all over Washington have been acknowledging to reporters since the moment the president unveiled it,” McConnell stated in remarks distributed by his office.

“They’ve said that despite the president’s calls to pass this bill immediately, the real plan is to let it hang out there for a while so Democrats can use it as an issue on the campaign trail. What’s more, the president knew as well as I did when he unveiled this plan that Democrats in the Senate had already scheduled a full slate of legislative business for the next few weeks. So unless the White House wants to admit that it has no regard for its own party’s legislative business in Congress, the president’s call for immediate action was clearly little more than a rhetorical flourish.”

Obama and the GOP represent different philosophical approaches to dealing with the current economic woes and the size and responsibility of government. On that level, Americans generally prefer the proposals Obama offered to the of congressional Republicans and the GOP’s 2012 presidential field, a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll has found.

Still, the poll “suggests Americans remain unconvinced that either party’s agenda can significantly dent” unemployment. Just 1 in 6 said they expected the jobs plan Obama sent to Congress will significantly reduce unemployment. Yet, nearly half of those surveyed thought his plan would help at least a bit, the poll found.

The poll is based on interviews with 1,010 adults reached by land line and cellphone on Sept. 8 to 11. The overall margin of error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points though questions about the Obama jobs plan have a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.

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