Why Americans Are Fed Up With Congress

It doesn't take a political scientist to figure out why Congress's approval ratings just hit an all-time low of 18% -- just spend a few days on Capitol Hill watching lawmakers in action.

It doesn't take a political scientist to figure out why Congress's approval ratings just hit an all-time low (opens in new tab) of 18% -- just spend a few days on Capitol Hill watching lawmakers in action. This week you could see them strutting around one day, proud of passing a phony gas-price-reduction bill, and watch them flail hopelessly the next, trying to short change the men and women who are fighting the war in Iraq.

The supposed help on gas prices when both the House and Senate gave near-unanimous approval (opens in new tab) to a suspension of deposits to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That's about 70,000 barrels a day or 25 million if the suspension lasts a full year. (Americans use more than 20 million barrels every day.) Lawmakers claim the move will knock a few cents off the price of a gallon of gas, but experts dismiss that as overly optimistic. The truth is, it's all for show, and President Bush would be right to carry out his veto threat, even if it does get overridden.

The veterans benefit fight playing out in the Senate is harder to fathom. Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska have been pushing a bill to expand the G.I. Bill of Rights so that veterans who served three years will be eligible for the full cost of public college tuition and expenses, with the exact amount pegged to the tuition costs in the veteran's home state.

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While the measure has broad support, it's opposed by Sen. John McCain and the Bush administration who say the price tag -- about $4 billion over 10 years -- is too costly. To give their presidential candidate political cover, Senate Republicans concocted an alternative (opens in new tab), then broke off negotiations on a compromise and tried to attach their plan to an unrelated union bargaining bill. Democrats objected and now the Senate is gridlocked.

The McCain plan would limit benefits to veterans who have served at least six years, with a maximum of $2,000 per month. In many states, that wouldn't be enough to cover the tab, and it wouldn't help all those National Guard troops that have been called repeatedly to active duty but don't want to be career soldiers.

Given estimates that the war effort will cost $2 trillion (opens in new tab) or more, it's hard to see why we can't afford a little more help for the only Americans truly making a sacrifice for the war effort. But maybe if the oil bill saves our men and women in uniform a few cents on gasoline and they invest it wisely, it'll help pay for their education and a decent job down the road.

Mark Willen
Senior Political Editor, The Kiplinger Letter