Congressional approval rating drops, and little wonder

May 29, 2012

You may have heard that Congress’ approval rating is at an all-time low. According to some polls it’s as low as 14.6 percent. To give that some context, Congress is less popular than polygamy. (This, perhaps, should hearten those who worry that Mitt Romney’s ancestors will become an issue for him in the general election.)

A big chunk of that disapproval is aimed at the GOP: In some polls, Republicans hit as high as 77 percent disapproval all by themselves. The Democrats average about 60 percent disapproval, indicating that Americans are passing the blame around.

That’s no surprise given the acrimony and the vile partisanship of this particular Congress – and, more importantly, its inability to get anything concrete done. Just look through the congressional record for the astounding number of bills passed, particularly by the House, that have gone nowhere, and the astounding number of bills referred to committee, such as the Individual Liberty Act, that are pure posturing, with absolutely no possibility of going anywhere. (The ILA is just one of dozens of bills aimed at repealing or defunding or lethally crippling the Affordable Care Act.)

And yet, here’s the kicker: In an average of several polls pitting generic Republicans and Democrats, the GOP squeaks by 44.6 percent to 42.4 percent.

How is that even possible?

Both parties have engaged in less than honorable behavior, but the GOP has far and away taken the prize for pure politics and a willingness to put party above country time and again.

I could focus on any of a number of issues, from tax policy to debt relief to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but nothing quite enshrines the GOP’s willingness to destroy a good thing for its own short-term goals as clearly as the Affordable Care Act.

In this case, the Republicans’ brilliance has been not in debating whether America needs healthcare reform – we seem to have consensus on that – or in offering a reasonable alternative, but in convincing the majority of Americans that the law is not just bad, but evil. The Republicans’ genius has been in completely turning the public’s opinion against its own best interest while offering zero in return. Most polls show that nearly half of a Americans disapprove of Obamacare, while about a third support it.

You want to know how badly the U.S. needs health reform? Consider for a moment that you are, like me, the head of household in a family that includes at least one child. And say you lose your job for whatever reason. The GOP will gladly point to the various options that will allow you to keep your health insurance until you secure a new job. The most popular is COBRA, which allows you to keep your current plan and pay for it out of your own pocket for as long as 18 months.

Sounds good, right? Except that if you look at the handy dandy chart at the bottom of this post, there’s no way you can get your family insurance for less than about $1,000 a month. And remember, this while you’re unemployed.

Oh wait, you say, you can just go get private insurance. Of course you can. I’m not going to give you all my Google searches – you can do your own – but from what I’ve figured out, if you are a family, you can’t get reasonable insurance for less than $750 a month (with a $1,750 deductible) and you can’t get anything for less $400 a month unless you’re willing to suck up $5,000 and $10,000 deductibles. And most of these plans are terrible. Let’s not even get into the whole pre-conditions thing.

And yet it seems that at least some Republicans, when they’re talking among themselves, think that some aspects of the Affordable Care Act are worth keeping. In a recent email chain, Republican operatives in Congress (including in John Boehner’s office) and at conservative think tanks and foundations discussed, regardless of the Supreme Court decision, how to salvage popular provisions of the law, such as keeping children on their parents’ healthcare until they’re 26 (handy when you have unemployed adult children hanging around, more likely to happen during an economic crisis), providing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and keeping the so-called Medicare “donut hole.”

The email chain I’m referring to also included the reaction of various GOPers to these considerations: a swift and unequivocal rejection. But it’s worthwhile reading the Politico story I referenced above. The reaction is not because the law is bad, much less evil. It’s because, having convinced us that what’s bad for us is good for them, it would weaken their political hand.

As long as we’re under their spell, we will continue to bitch and moan about this terrible Congress while returning the very same self-interested do-nothings to Washington, giving them power once again to continue to screw us over.

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