In Cincinnati, 'Nothing Good To Say' About Congress

If the only thing worse than being hated is being ignored, Congress has slipped even further. While polls show staggering disapproval rates for the legislative body, Americans seem to have lost interest in what Congress is, or isn't, doing. In Cincinnati, most voters approached had nothing good to say about it.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

You're about to hear a sampling of American opinion about Congress. Now, it's an unscientific sample - people in one Midwestern city. But it's probably fair to say we could have gone anywhere and heard just about the same thing.

INSKEEP: Surveys have lately shown Congress with approval ratings between 9 and 12 percent. One survey found a communist takeover of America to be more popular than Congress. The public seems not to approve of a year-long fight over spending and taxes. It's become harder and harder for lawmakers to claim, as some have in the past, that they're just following the will of the people.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports from downtown Cincinnati.

ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: These days, when I stop people in the street, there's this thing that happens all the time.

I'm a reporter with NPR in Washington. Anyone interested in talking about Congress?

BILL BELLMAN: Congress - there's nothing good to say.

SEABROOK: People's instant reaction to the mention of Congress is: Ugh, what a mess; there's nothing good to say.

This man is Bill Bellman. He's strolling with his family around historic Findlay Market in downtown Cincinnati. Bellman says he just doesn't see anything good happening back in Washington, especially in the GOP-led House of Representatives.

BELLMAN: The current Congress, I think, has just decided they're not going to do anything, and hope that a Republican wins the next election and they can do what they want.

SEABROOK: He wants leaders to lead, says Bellman, and they aren't - on either side.

BELLMAN: I don't want to be partisan about it. I don't want a leader who's partisan. I want somebody who's going to do the right things. You know, there are people who know how to clean this economy up. I think a lot of people in Washington know what to do, they're just not willing to do it.

SEABROOK: Over at an outdoor table, Scott Yaegle is munching a sandwich with friends. He thinks both sides want to make it work, but...

SCOTT YEAGLE: The Republicans don't want to see the Democrats succeed in anything, and the Democrats don't want to see the Republicans succeed in anything. So that's, I think, why it's a big mess.

SEABROOK: Across the table, his friend Tim Jones is more angry at lawmakers.

TIM JONES: We're paying them a lot of money, but they're not doing their job.

SEABROOK: At another sidewalk table, Matthew Cullinan and his friend Danny Korman are having lunch and talking about the supercommittee. Cullinan says he's kind of glad it failed.

MATTHEW CULLINAN: It really wouldn't have accomplished anything. It would have been status quo.

SEABROOK: This way, says Korman, there's a chance tax rates will go back up to what they were before the George W. Bush administration.

DANNY KORMAN: What we really need to be doing is increasing revenue so that we're generating more economic activity.

SEABROOK: Now, that's surprising since Korman is one of those small-business owners who are supposed to be uniformly against any increase in individual income taxes. He runs what he calls a green general store. He employs eight people. So wouldn't a tax hike affect him?

KORMAN: It would affect me, I'm just not - I'm not convinced that that's the real argument. As a retail store, we're very dependent on people walking into our store and purchasing goods.

SEABROOK: It's more important to Korman that lots and lots of shoppers have money in their pockets to spend, than that he gets a tax break.

KORMAN: There's a major disconnect of what the public wants, and what the lawmakers are actually passing laws for. They're not listening to the public. That's the problem.

SEABROOK: Across the walking mall, a Vietnam veteran named Eddie Hill sketches portraits for donations. He says he knows what's wrong with Congress.

EDDIE HILL: Without unity, you have nothing. You have a broken unit. You know, you can take one thread and break it with your hand, but you put many threads together, you can pick up a building. So unity is the thing that we need.

SEABROOK: Hill says he's just hoping somebody in Washington will wake up.

SIR: (Singing) Washington, we're watching you, whoa-hmm. What in the hell you going to do...

SEABROOK: This is a friend of Eddie Hill's. He says his name is Sir, and he has a clear opinion.

SIR: (Singing) Too much wheeling and dealing, everybody trying to make a killing. Washington, we're watching you.

SEABROOK: Sir sings the sentiment of many here in downtown Cincinnati. People here are watching, waiting to see if something will change.

SIR: (Singing) What in the hell you going to do, Washington?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEABROOK: Andrea Seabrook, NPR News.

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