Most Americans oppose fully funding President Bush's $190 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a sizable majority support an expansion of a children's health insurance bill he has promised to veto, putting Bush and many congressional Republicans on the wrong side of public opinion on upcoming foreign and domestic policy battles.
The new Washington Post-ABC News poll also shows deep dissatisfaction with the president and with Congress. Bush's approval rating stands at 33 percent, equal to his career low in Post-ABC polls. And just 29 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, its lowest approval rating in this poll since November 1995, when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. It also represents a 14-point drop since Democrats took control in January.
Despite discontent with Congress this year, the public rates congressional Republicans (29 percent approve) lower than congressional Democrats (38 percent approve). When the parties are pitted directly against each other, the public broadly favors Democrats on Iraq, health care, the federal budget and the economy. Only on the issue of terrorism are Republicans at parity with Democrats.
Part of the displeasure with Congress stems from the stalemate between Democrats and the White House over Iraq policy. Most Americans do not believe Congress has gone far enough in opposing the war, with liberal Democrats especially critical of their party's failure to force the president into a significant change in policy.
At the same time, there is no consensus about the pace of any U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq. In July, nearly six in 10 said they wanted to decrease the number of troops there, but now a slim majority, 52 percent, think Bush's plan for removing some troops by next summer is either the right pace for withdrawal (38 percent) or too hasty (12 percent would like a slower reduction, and 2 percent want no force reduction). Fewer people (43 percent) want a quicker exit.
John Csanadi of Nanuet, N.Y., said he has mixed feelings about what to do next in Iraq. Asked about Bush's proposal for a modest drawdown of troops, he said: "It's a start. Not the best solution, but at least it's a start."
But Don Hiatt of Las Vegas said he sees the proposal as a holding action by a president stalling for time. "I think he's trying to just play it until he gets out of office and let the next president handle it, and that's not a good thing if that's what he's doing," Hiatt said.
Overall, 55 percent of Americans want congressional Democrats to do more to challenge the president's Iraq policies, while a third think the Democrats have gone too far. The level of agitation for more action in opposition to the war has not dissipated since August 2005, when Democrats were the minority party in Congress.
Lee Martin, an information technology consultant from Chicago, said that after last year's midterm elections, he and others anticipated a change in Iraq policy. "The reason Congress is down is they're [Democrats] in there and basically nothing is changing," he said.
Robert Holtzman of Philadelphia said there is not much Democrats can do, given the ability of Republicans to block most action in the Senate. Still, he expressed frustration: "I'm satisfied with the Democratic Congress on small things, but they haven't gotten it together on the bigger issues."
More than eight in 10 liberal Democrats said Congress has been too restrained, while about the same percentage of conservative Republicans said it has been too aggressive. A narrow majority of independents, 53 percent, want more congressional action.
A central challenge for all policymakers is that those who want more congressional action are not unanimous in what they would like done. Almost all of those who would like congressional Democrats to do more to oppose the Iraq war disapprove of how the president has handled it, but about a quarter want U.S. troops to remain in Iraq until civil order is restored. More than a third see Bush's plan to withdraw the "surge" troops by next summer as about right or even too fast.
There is broader public agreement on how Congress should approach war funding. About a quarter of adults want Congress to fund fully the administration's $190 billion request; seven in 10 want the proposed allocation reduced, with 46 percent wanting it cut sharply or entirely. About seven in 10 independents want Congress to cut back funds allocated for the war effort, as do nearly nine in 10 Democrats; 46 percent of Republicans agree.
Democratic leaders are increasingly anxious about the perception that they are not accomplishing much on central issues. The House will vote tonight on a measure that would give the Bush administration 60 days to report to Congress on its planning for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, then require reports on withdrawal every 90 days.
Bush and the Republicans may also be headed for a political setback from the fight over the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), even if Congress does not override Bush's threatened veto.
More than seven in 10 in the poll support the planned $35 billion spending increase, and 25 percent are opposed. About half of all Americans "strongly" support the increased spending; 17 percent are firmly against the additional funds. Eighty-one percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans are in favor.
Democrats hold a big edge over Republicans on health-care issues. Overall, 56 percent said they trust Democrats to handle health care, and 26 percent side with the GOP.
Democrats also have a greater share of the public trust on other key issues, including Iraq (a 15-point advantage), the economy (18 points) and handling the federal budget deficit (23 points). On the campaign against terrorism, 41 percent put more faith in Democrats, 40 percent in Republicans.
But when Americans look more broadly at Congress as an institution, they are increasingly unhappy. Barely a third of liberal Democrats approve of the job Congress is doing; in April, 59 percent approved. Among independents, 24 percent approve, equaling last year's pre-election low mark for the GOP-controlled Congress.
Deteriorating reviews of congressional job performance are linked to a broad-based assessment that Congress has not accomplished much this year. Although Congress has passed four of the Democrats' "Six for '06" agenda items and a promised overhaul of congressional ethics and lobbying rules, more than eight in 10 Americans, including large majorities across party lines, said Congress has accomplished "not too much" or "nothing at all" this year.
By a 2 to 1 margin, those who see little accomplishment in Congress's first nine months blame the inaction on Bush and the GOP more than they do the majority Democrats. Fifty-one percent place primary fault with the president and congressional Republicans, and 25 percent on the Democrats. Among independents, 43 percent blame Republicans, 23 percent Democrats and nearly three in 10 blame both sides equally.
The poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday among a national random sample of 1,114 adults. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta and staff writer Jonathan Weisman contributed to this report.
© 2007 The Washington Post