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September 29, 2006
NYU Wagner's John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress today released the results of a national survey that finds widespread dissatisfaction with Congress and pent-up demand for action on worrisome long-term issues such as global warming, Social Security and Medicare, and even aging bridges and roads.
Many Americans doubt Congress has the knowledge to tackle such issues capably in the national interest, according to the telephone survey of 1,000 adults released at a news conference by its author, Paul C. Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, who is the President and Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
"If the members of the next Congress want to be remembered as part of a 'Do Something' Congress, it must address these issues," said Light at the news conference held at the Wilson Center, referring to such public concerns as energy, immigration, treatment for new diseases, and an aging population.
The survey and a study about its findings were issued by the "Legislating for the Future" project – a Brademas Center initiative cosponsored by the Brookings Institution and the RAND Corporation. The project, led by Light, includes a bipartisan advisory group chaired by Hamilton, who is joined by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) and Rep. Eva Clayton (D-NC).
According to the survey, Americans overwhelmingly are displeased with Congress, with only 6 percent "very favorable" toward it, and 53 percent "somewhat" or "very unfavorable." Additionally, they express deep worries about Social Security, energy, Medicare, immigration, terrorism, treatments for new diseases, global warming and repairing the nation's older roads and bridges.
The survey suggests Americans believe Congress pays insufficient attention to seven of these eight issues, with terrorism the exception. While 81 percent feel that Congress is devoting a great deal or fair amount of attention to terrorism, only 52 percent say the same about Medicare, 48 percent about energy, 47 percent about Social Security and 33 percent about treatment for new diseases.
Just half of Americans believe Congress has enough knowledge to act on Social Security in the interests of the American people, while only 48 percent believe Congress knows enough to take action on terrorism. Forty-six percent say the same about energy, 42 percent about repairing the nation's older roads and bridges as well as immigration, and 41 percent about Medicare. An even lower percentage feels Congress has the information to act on global warming (36 percent) and treatment for new diseases (33 percent).
Given their worries, according to the survey, the vast majority of Americans want Congress to act immediately, with 92 percent saying immigration demands action now, 91 percent saying the same about terrorism, 90 percent about energy and Medicare, 88 percent about Social Security, 86 percent about treatments for new diseases, 75 percent on global warming and 65 percent on bridge and road repair.
Light and Hamilton announced that the "Legislating for the Future" project will hold a series of quarterly forums throughout the year devoted to finding concrete ways the next Congress can educate itself, deliberate and take action on specific issues.
"The forums will deal with real issues facing the nation, and real reforms that might improve the odds that Congress will act," said Light.
The mission of the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress is to increase the understanding of Congress -- "the People's Branch" -- its role in making policy, its powers, processes and responsibilities. The Center’s bipartisan work is aimed at scholars, students, current and future public servants and the public. To realize its mission, it conducts research, teaches, and holds public outreach events such as symposia and conferences. It also hosts policy addresses by Members of Congress. The Brademas Center aims to explore issues and problems of the legislative branch from new perspectives. Part of New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, it is named for founder John Brademas, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 22 years (1959-81).