by Max Brantley
New York Times polling shows President Obama holds a 51 percent approval rating, about his election margin. About the same as George W. Bush at this point his presidency; well below Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.
But, he could be Congress.
Still, Mr. Obama is in a considerably stronger position as he opens his second term, especially relative to the increasingly unpopular Republicans in Congress. The percentage of Americans who disapprove of Congress — 82 percent — is the highest for a new Congress since The Times and CBS News began asking the question regularly two decades ago. While neither party in Congress gets high marks, the public is far more negative toward Republican lawmakers.
That negativity appears to be causing introspection among some top Republicans. After a retreat this week in which they heard bad news from their own pollsters, House Republicans announced that they would agree to an unconditional three-month increase in the nation’s debt limit without equal spending cuts immediately — a tactical retreat that most likely reflects their sense of their disadvantage against Mr. Obama.
Nearly half the public blames Republicans for the partisan impasse that nearly blocked a needed tax agreement over the holidays, compared with almost one-third who blame Mr. Obama. Independents sided with the president by a two-to-one ratio. Almost half of Americans said the episode made them more pessimistic about Washington’s ability to resolve other problems in the future.
I still think business community pressure is a better explanation for some movement among House Republicans on the debt ceiling than public disapproval. U.S. Reps. Tom Cotton and Tiny Tim Griffin, for example, by recent votes against hurricane disaster aid, demonstrate the Republican House belief that it is no longer damaging to a politician to oppose help for people in desperate need in pursuit of ideological, Club for Growth rigor.