ALEX COHEN, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
I'm Madeleine Brand.
In a few minutes an image makeover for the Mormon Church.
COHEN: First though, politics and guess what we are going to give you a little break from the Obama-McCain race to talk today about Congress. It's on a 10 day vacation right now for the Fourth of July holiday. Recent polls show Congress with about a 19 percent approval rating. That's actually lower than President Bush's approval ratings. Joining us now to talk about the often absent and little loved 110th Congress is NPR's Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving. Hi Ron.
RON ELVING: Good to be with you Alex.
COHEN: Ron, what is it about this current Congress that people don't like?
ELVING: Well, depends on your politics a little bit. Right now, a lot of liberals are unhappy about the funding of the wars, which the president signed today. And they're also unhappy about the renewal of the administrations authority to conducting surveillance on Americans without warrants. That has not been finished yet, but it is pretty much the die is cast, and it'll happen in July. One the other hand, you've got conservatives who are equally unhappy with Congress in general especially for spending levels.
COHEN: Between now and the election just a couple months away, is there much of a chance that they can turn their approval ratings around?
ELVING: Next month, they are going to finally get done some kind of a bill with respect to the mortgage crises, to try to bail out at least some people who have gotten in trouble with their subprime mortgages. And that should help a little bit. They may also do another patch on the alternative minimum tax, which will at least prevent people from becoming even more unhappy with this Congress. If they were to fail to do that, and the alternative minimum tax suddenly bit a much, much, larger span of the American working public. That would probably be a good thing for them to do, but I don't see anything else on the horizon that's really going to make them much more popular. I think most of the rest of the year, and they won't be in town to do very much during most of that six months of this year. When they are in town, maybe 10 or 11 weeks of the rest of the year, I don't see very much for them to do that's going to make them more popular.
COHEN: There's a lot of talk about this Congress being one of the most divided groups ever. Is there anything that they all can get along on?
ELVING: Yes, they've gotten together to override two vetoes by President Bush. One was a water projects bill and the other was, of course, the massive five year Farm Bill, and that makes conservatives actually angry because they see both bills as having been laden with pork and wasteful spending, but the Republicans say as well as the Democrats wanted a lot of those provisions. And so this was an area where partisanship could be set aside, and everyone could agree to override the president.
COHEN: Ron, the American people elected these lawmakers. So how much responsibility do voters need to take for this current Congress?
ELVING: We're, of course, responsible for every member of Congress. We elect them, House and Senate, but at the same time we are dealing with a system, particularly in the House where incumbency is enormously powerful. And where the districts are drawn so when one party or the other pretty much owns each and every district. So even in unhappy years, such as this one, most members of Congress are virtually already reelected.
COHEN: Any sign that things could be different this time around, this year?
ELVING: In the Senate there are six or seven maybe eight or nine incumbents who are having tight races. Most of the changeover may very well come from vacancies where incumbents have already retired. On the House side, we have seen several incumbents already defeated in their primaries. But that doesn't really help with the partisanship issue back here in Washington, because they've all been defeated by people who did not feel they had been partisan enough in one direction or the other.
COHEN: Now we did promise that we wouldn't talk about the presidential race. But we really can't have this conversation without mentioning the fact that coming out this Congress are our two big presidential contenders. These low approval ratings that Congress currently has, is that going to bear any influence as to how Americans are going to vote this fall?
ELVING: As you say, Alex, they can't come to this with clean hands. They're both members of this Congress, both senators. But they still will try to run against Washington and run against Congress as best as they can. Because that's always been so successful for presidential candidates and there are certainly things that each of these two candidates don't like about the performance of this Congress. John McCain will, of course, say that they are spending too much money and if it is going to be a Democratic Congress, they should have a Republican president in the White House to veto their bills and to do what George Bush is doing, resisting this Congress. On the other hand, Barack Obama will say, that's precisely the problem. That Congress can't get anything done because it is constantly at loggerheads with the president. We need to be more bipartisan and we need to work across the branches of government from executive to legislative branch. That would be his argument and they will both spend a far amount of their time bashing what the other one represents in Congress.
COHEN: NPR's Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving. Thanks Ron.
ELVING: Thank you Alex.
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