Congress Has 4 Weeks To Try To Get More Done

Experts don't expect Congress to get much more done before members have to go out and campaign for midterm elections. Is it a do-nothing Congress? Republicans would argue that this Congress has done way to much with the stimulus bill; health care and financial overhaul. The problem hasn't been that it hasn't gotten a lot done. The problem is, voters don't much like what lawmakers have done so far.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

For more on the political landscape this week, we turn to NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So Audie makes it sound fairly bleak in terms of getting anything new done in the next few weeks. But you could call this a do-nothing Congress.

ROBERTS: No, you and I have seen do-nothing Congresses and this isn't one of it, to put it mildly. In fact the Republicans would argue that this Congress has done way too much - with the stimulus bill, health care reform, financial reform. The problem hasn't been that it haven't gotten anything done. The problem from the majority Democrats' perspective is that it's done a lot but voters don't much like what they've done so far.

Now, the White House team continues to believe voters will eventually like the ambitious agenda already passed, but that's not going to be much help to Democrats this fall. So, why would they want to push any of those other bills?

They do have to, of course, do the appropriations and they'll do some measures that are popular with the Democratic base, like tax increases on businesses that move jobs overseas, but that's about it.

WERTHEIMER: One thing voters, obviously, like is tax cuts, and it sounds like the Republicans may be willing to go along with the version of tax cuts that the administration is backing. That calls for keeping tax breaks in place for those with incomes under $250,000, and reinstating Clinton-era tax rates for anyone making more than that. But what do you see? What does this really look like?

ROBERTS: Well, it looks like the Democrats are winning, politically, on that issue. As you well know, the most effective tack that the Democrats take, year- in and year-out, against Republicans is that they are for the rich guys. So, pushing to keep tax cuts for the most wealthy really doesn't work for the Republicans, politically.

And to show just how much Democrats have been counting on using that tack, again, against the Republicans going into this election, all you have to do is listen to what the president's new economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, said when he was told that John Boehner was ready to compromise.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE: If he is for that, I would be happy. In the past, we have seen some of these circumstances in which what appears the offer of doing the sensible thing in the light of day, there's a little bit of a feeling, well, if the president's for it, I'm against it and then it falls apart.

ROBERTS: Goolsbee was speaking on ABC. So, the Obama administration doesn't seem thrilled about the idea that Republicans might go along on the tax cuts and deprive them of that issue.

WERTHEIMER: But even if the Republicans are reacting politically, doesn't Goolsbee have a point here, that one party says no if the other party wants anything, you know, they just refuse?

ROBERTS: Sure. And that's almost as big a problem for Obama as the economy is. People are very upset that he hasn't brought change to D.C. You hear that so much in those Tea Party rallies. Now, if the economy were OK, would they really care? Probably not much. But the general state of upset about the direction of the country makes people look to Washington for solutions and despair when they see the bickering between the parties.

President Obama made a big point about changing all of that in his campaign, and it hasn't happened, and now voter unhappiness about the way Washington does business is almost as high as voter upset about the economy.

WERTHEIMER: It is so interesting, that anybody would actually think that you could change Washington in that very short period of time that the Obama administration has been in office.

ROBERTS: Well, the president was asked about that at his press conference on Friday, and he said if you're asking why I haven't been able to create a greater spirit of cooperation in Washington, I think that's fair. I think part of it has to do with the fact that when we came to office, we came in under very tough economic circumstances, and I think some of the Republican leaders made a decision we're going to sit on the sidelines and let Democrats try to solve it.

So, it is back to the economy as the problem. But the fact is George Bush ran on bringing harmony to Washington and thought he could work across the aisle, as he had in Texas, but the 2000 election left everybody so angry that he was unable to do that. So, you know, the question is: is this now our system, like a parliamentary system, despite what the voters want?

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Um-hum.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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