Support for bills found

Poll shows people are uncertain about where Democrats want to lead nation

January 19, 2007|By Janet Hook | Janet Hook,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan majority of Americans strongly supports the bills that whisked through the House in the first days of the Democratic-controlled Congress, but many remain uncertain about where the party wants to lead the nation, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

Approval of Congress has increased since the midterm election ousted Republicans from their House and Senate majorities, and Democrats are viewed in a more positive light after two weeks in power, according to the survey.

But only 25 percent of those surveyed believed that Democrats have formulated a clear direction for the country; 58 percent said they had failed to.

Those results amount to a mixed report card on the ballyhooed "100-hour" agenda House Democrats set for themselves as they took power.

They made a strong start with House passage of an increase in the minimum wage and a cut in student-loan rates, with significant Republican support - rare displays of bipartisanship after years of the party-line splits that marked GOP control.

But the survey underscores that Democrats have much to prove to voters as the Senate debates these bills and lawmakers in both chambers turn to more divisive issues, such as the federal budget, global warming and Iraq.

The poll found that 36 percent approve of how Congress is doing its job - hardly a mandate but up from 30 percent in September.

The Times/Bloomberg poll, supervised by Times poll director Susan Pinkus, surveyed 1,344 adults by telephone Saturday through Tuesday. It has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

It found that pressure is especially high for Democrats to change course in Iraq; 45 percent identified the war as the most important issue for the new Congress to address, a far higher figure than for any other issue.

The positive reaction among those polled to the major elements of the initial Democratic agenda ratifies the political strategy behind its design: Party leaders deliberately filled the congressional session's opening hours with issues that, for the most part, polls have found enjoyed bipartisan support and were likely to pass before President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday.

The student-loan rate cut that passed the House on Wednesday was supported by 79 percent of those polled. Legislation aimed at lowering prices in Medicare's prescription drug program, which passed the House last week, was backed by 80 percent.

Repealing tax breaks for big oil companies, which the House approved yesterday, was supported by 61 percent. An expansion of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, approved last week, was backed by 59 percent.

The most popular item was the push to increase the federal minimum wage, which under the House bill would rise over two years to $7.25 an hour from $5.15. The increase, which would be the first in a decade, was supported by 81 percent of those surveyed - including 66 percent of the self-described conservatives.

Some of the early promises emanating from Washington are being viewed with skepticism.

Almost three-quarters of those surveyed - 72 percent - supported House-passed ethics reforms to ban gifts from lobbyists and require disclosure of pork-barrel projects. But only 27 percent said they believed such measures would make a real difference.

Janet Hook writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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