The four retiring members of Congress — Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Reps. Ackerman and Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) — blamed the emergence of the outside spending groups known as super-PACs, the media — particularly Fox and MSNBC — and the public for the often frustrating atmosphere in Congress, blasting the parties for extremism and concluding that things have gotten a lot worse since they were first elected.

Snowe said the process of legislating has gotten dumber, as well.

“Somehow we have dumbed down the process,” she said. “Somehow we think, ‘Oh gosh, are you for or against?’ Well, geez, it just came up. Can I give it some thought? Can I think about it? Can I read about it? Maybe I should learn more about the facts on the issue. But there is no time, no deference paid to thoughtfulness in the legislative process today. We have got to get back to spending some time here to get the job done for the American people.”

Ackerman and Snowe particularly condemned the divisive perception the parties have developed of one another.

“It’s complete intolerance,” said Ackerman. “You can compromise between good, better, and best, and you can compromise between bad and worse and terrible. But you can’t compromise between good and evil. And now people look at the other side as a completely different kind of animal and say, ‘They are taking the country down the road to purgatory.’ ”

Snowe described it as being “always confined to the MSNBC or the Fox News prism.”

“That’s the way I describe it because it’s true. People see you in one channel or another and nothing in between,” she said.

“We are probably the only ones who watch both Fox and MSNBC. The public watches either one or the other, and they watch one or the other hoping that the guys on my side will kill the guys on the other side,” Ackerman said. “The Congress, both houses, both parties have to act like grown-ups and say that this is about policy. If it is about the presidency or if it’s about the majority in my House or your House, then it is never going to be about policy. Somebody is going to have to — not the four of us, but somebody is going to have to walk that back a few steps.”

Snowe left that job up to the public.

“The American people have to really weigh in and demonstrate that there is a political reward and incentive for working across party lines,” she said.

The average job-approval rating for Congress in recent polls is 17 percent.