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Published: Thursday, 7/24/2008

Desire for change

THAT the American public is upset with its elected officials in Washington is hardly a news flash. It is no surprise that only 12 percent of those surveyed in a recent Gallup Poll have confidence in Congress as an institution.

That's the lowest confidence rating since Gallup started asking the question 35 years ago.

The reasons are obvious: There seems to be no end in sight to high gasoline prices or the war in Iraq. Add distress over the housing crunch and growing unemployment and people have every reason to complain. When they do, Congress is an easy target.

So is President Bush, whose job approval rating is around 30 percent these days. But he's doing way better than Congress, whose job approval rating is a pitiful 18 percent.

These rock-bottom ratings worry members of both political parties. Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling says Congress has "an approval rating below bubonic plague and head lice," and the public unfairly blames the GOP because it was in charge on Capitol Hill for such a long time.

Democrats fret that Republicans use procedural maneuvers to block key votes on legislation, so they get blamed unfairly for not getting much done now that they're in the majority. As Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow puts it, "The strategy of the Republicans has been to stop anything from happening."

This fall's elections would seem to be a likely time for voters to take out their anger on congressional incumbents, except - and it's a big exception - that Americans typically hold their local member of Congress in pretty high regard. It's all those other guys who are useless.

This is a trend pollsters confront regularly, and it is borne out by the fact that more than 90 percent of congressional incumbents get re-elected.

Considering the deep gloom that seems to permeate the country, this may be the year that proves the exception.

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