I am shocked to report that Congress, the beating heart of American democracy, is unpopular.
Not unpopular like a shy kid in junior high. Unpopular like the Ebola virus, or zombies. Held in near-universal contempt, like TV shows about hoarders with dead cats in their kitchens. Or people who get students to call you up during dinner and ask you to give money to your old university.
The latest Gallup poll gave Congress a 10 percent approval rating. As Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado keeps pointing out, that’s lower than BP during the oil spill, Nixon during Watergate or banks during the banking crisis.
On the plus side, while 86 percent of respondents told Gallup that they disapproved of the job Congress was doing, only 4 percent said they had no opinion. That’s really a great sense of public awareness, given the fact that other surveys show less than half of all Americans know who their member of Congress is.
So little attention, yet so much rancor. We’re presuming that this is because of the dreaded partisan gridlock, which has made Congress increasingly unproductive in matters that do not involve the naming of post offices.
And Congress is listening! Lately, we have been seeing heartening new signs of bipartisan cooperation. For instance, the House and Senate are near an agreement on the payroll tax cut, namely that it will continue and not be paid for.
This is actually sort of a tradition. No matter who is in power in Washington, Congress has always shown a remarkable ability to band together and pass tax cuts that are not paid for. It’s like naming post offices, only somewhat more expensive.
But there’s much, much more. For instance, both chambers recently approved a big new ethics reform bill that would ban members of Congress from engaging in insider trading.
Perhaps you imagined that this was already against the law.
This piece of legislation had been lying around gathering dust since 2006. But, this year, the House and Senate decided to stand tall and pass it as a matter of principle. It had nothing to do with a “60 Minutes” report that made the whole place look like a convention of grifters. Totally unrelated. This was simply a bill whose time had come.
And that bill would probably already be signed into law were it not for a disagreement over whether to require the high-paid professionals who poke around Congress collecting information that might be of use to their Wall Street clients to register the same way lobbyists do.
You’d think this would be easy to sort out since most members of the House and the Senate have gone on the record in favor of registering these guys.
But, no, the idea ran afoul of the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, the Darth Vader of Capitol Hill. Cantor says the idea should be studied, which is, of course, legislatese for “trampled to death by a thousand boots.”
Still, the good news is that the basic idea of prohibiting members of Congress from using the information they acquire in the course of their public duties to engage in insider trading did pass both chambers by enormous majorities.
And the bipartisan cooperation keeps rolling on. This week, the Senate confirmed Judge Adalberto Jose Jordan to a seat on the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. A visitor from another country might not have appreciated the proportions of this achievement, given the fact that Jordan, who was born in Cuba and who once clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor, had no discernible opposition.
But Americans ought to have a better grasp of how the Senate works. The nomination’s progress had long been thwarted by Mike Lee, a freshman Republican from Utah, who has decided to hold up every single White House appointment to anything out of pique over … well, it doesn’t really matter. When you’re a senator, you get to do that kind of thing.