The American people truly would be horrified if they understood how dysfunctional it has become, said Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a centrist think tank. How poisoned, how intractable, how unfriendly.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Kansas City, said if Americans truly knew how bad it was, theyd be marching on the Capitol with pitchforks.
As it is, horror is one of the most common ways Americans now describe their government.
Today, a Gallup poll shows congressional approval has dropped to 10 percent, the lowest level in almost 40 years. The IRS is four times more popular.
Congress needs to work together, said Alexander Barket of Lawrence, an IT professional. That means compromise. The founding fathers didnt intend on stagnation and gridlock.
Mildred Cooke, an 82-year-old retired teacher from Columbia, thinks what this country needs is some George Washingtons and some Abraham Lincolns who think what is good for my country, and not what is good for me and my friends.
It may be true that the country needs Washingtons and Lincolns. It isnt clear, in the present environment, if either could win an election today.
Everybody ought to stand on principle, said Donna Frazier, a 59-year-old retired schoolteacher from Excelsior Springs. Until theres bloodshed.
In June, the Senate debated and passed the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012, known to almost everyone as the farm bill.
Years ago, farm bills routinely passed with bipartisan support every member of Congress represents someone who eats, and most represent some farmers. Yet across the Capitol in the House, bipartisan momentum for the bill wilted, even as farmers battled the worst drought in decades. Too expensive, conservatives said. Too many cuts to food stamps, liberals answered.
Was there an alternative to the farm bill? Yes: Emergency drought relief, enough to get some farmers through the summer.
The Republican House said yes. The Democratic Senate said no.
Behold the modern American legislature, where nothing is accomplished, and slowly.
Congress is almost impossible. Its unruly anyway under the best of circumstances, said former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, now a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. Now we have the worst of circumstances.
Indeed, on issue after issue, the federal government now fails to execute its most important tasks:
The current 112th Congress has passed just 151 public laws since it convened in January 2011, the fewest laws in at least six decades. The next-most-unproductive national legislature the 104th Congress, 1995-1996 passed 280 public laws. It still found time, under a Democratic president and a Republican Congress, to shut down the federal government for several weeks.
For comparison, the 1947-1948 do-nothing Congress attacked by Harry Truman passed 906 public laws.
The current Senate has not produced a stand-alone budget. The last budget, required by law, was passed in April 2009.
Last year, Congress failed to pass a single regular stand-alone spending bill by the October deadline 12 mandatory appropriations measures for spending on defense, transportation, the justice system and other departments. With seven weeks to go, no department spending bills have become law this year.