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Juan Williams: Republicans to blame for the public's disgust with Congress

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As the year ends, Gallup reports that public approval of Congress averaged 14 percent during 2013. This, the polling firm points out, is “the lowest annual average in Gallup’s history.”

The pollsters added: “2013 is the only year in Gallup’s history in which all monthly readings were below 20 percent.”

Yet this is “the new normal,” according to Gallup, because in each of the last four years the congressional approval rating for the year has been below 20 percent.

It was such a bad year for Congress that Gallup predicts the 2014 midterm elections will not, fundamentally, be a fight over which party controls the House and Senate.

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Instead, the campaign could hinge on the overwhelmingly negative view of Congress and the sense “that more Americans feel that problems are with the institution itself rather than with the particular party or people who control it.”

This brings us to the quote of the year about political life on Capitol Hill. It came from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), defending the Republican-led House.

“We should not be judged on how many new laws we create,” he told CBS in July. “We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

This Republican strategy is at the heart of why Congress is so unpopular. They will not work on the big issues, beginning with their failure to deal with the number one public priority: creating jobs and boosting the economy.

Instead, the GOP’s congressional focus, according to the influential Republican Study Committee, is on extracting what they term “reforms” — really, they’re talking about budget cuts — in “mandatory spending” programs including food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. There is practically no desire for those cuts reflected in any polling.

As Campaign 2014 gets underway, Republicans are threatening another government shutdown tied to refusal to approve a debt-ceiling hike to pay bills. Their demand is for President Obama to make major cuts to programs such as Social Security.

The reduced-government, reduced-spending, reduced-federal-power strategy extends to the Senate where Republicans have used an historic number of filibusters and threats to block nominees to Obama administration posts and judicial seats. That led Senate Democrats to the “nuclear option,” opening the door to simple majority votes on most nominees.

But even with rules changes intended to break gridlock, the economy continues to struggle partly as a result of the GOP strategy.

This is not winning Republicans friends or votes. Only after the awful start for the ObamaCare website did generic polls on voter preference briefly lean toward the GOP. But at year end, polling on the question of generic preference now swings back and forth between the parties.

Now the Speaker is disavowing his earlier desire to have his party’s success in Congress measured by how many laws it repeals. His new talking point revolves around the number of bills passed by the GOP House that the Democratic majority in the Senate has ignored.

But even if all those bills, about 150, are counted, it does not change Congress’ absurdly low approval ratings and this Congress’ ranking, at the mid-point of the 113th Congress, as the least productive in modern times.

Of course, about a third of those bills that did pass the House called for repeal or defunding of ObamaCare. They had no chance in the Senate and no hope of avoiding a presidential veto.

Even by the standards of a divided Congress, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats in the majority in the Senate, there has never been such an unproductive session of Congress.

NBC’s “First Read” recently published a chart comparing the productivity of today’s divided Congress (57 laws passed) to the work undertaken by a divided Congress during President Reagan’s terms – when Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats controlled the House. The 97th, 98th and 99th Congresses respectively passed 473 laws, 623 laws, and 663 laws.

The article concluded: “It’s not even a close call. That [Democratic] House got a lot more done with its GOP rivals than this GOP House has with its [Democratic] counterparts.”

The failure to deal with the nation’s big issues begins with the Republican refusal to help the economy get better. The public is aware of the damage the Republican majority in the House inflicted upon the country when they shut down the government in October — an action that came with a price tag of  $24 billion, according to the financial services firm Standard & Poor’s.

The Republican strategy of congressional inaction has not even won fans among Republicans. According to Gallup, Democrats give Congress a 14 percent approval rating, Independents an 11 percent approval rating and Republicans a 10 percent approval rating.

There is constant attention in the news to Obama’s falling approval ratings in the polls — Real Clear Politics’ average of polls has him at 54 percent disapproval to 42.2 percent approval, near his all-time low.

But even if this is the darkest hour for the president, he still holds close to a 30-percentage point lead in approval over Congress.

At a Christmas party last week a Republican who owns several television stations came over to me with an idea: How about starting a movement to throw out the entire Congress and start over?

I thought he was joking and politely smiled. But he recounted how two radio personalities in California started the movement that led to the recall of Gov. Gray Davis (D) in 2003.

Now he wants he wants me and major television personalities, columnists and editorial writers to call for a “housecleaning” of all current members of Congress.

Well, this is the time for New Year’s resolutions.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.