This would not be a good year to be running as Bob Dole or even Barack Obama '08. If you were a sitting member of Congress and your party's nominee, how on earth would you explain the mess at the Capitol--the constant "Perils of Pauline" near catastrophes with shutting down the government, blowing the debt ceiling, and hiking the Payroll Tax. The major contenders for president--Romney, Gingrich, Obama, Perry--don't have to apologize for Congress. Bachmann and Paul are such outliers that no one is going to blame them for the machinations of John Boehner. So no one runs with Congress on their back.
But has Congress's endless toiling helped one party or another? My guess is not. The hope that teeing up certain issues that are popular--a millionaires' surtax, for instance--would help one party is an idea whose time has come and gone, I think. The public seems entirely uninterested on the CSI of who killed what bill. Both sides--but especially the Republicans--have been using extraordinary tactics to stick the shiv in bills for the past year. The GOP's audacious refusal to approve any consumer finance head until the Dodd-Frank law is rewritten is unprecedented. But it doesn't seem to resonate.
Congress is seen as a big unproductive mess but it's hard to see how that helps or hurts any of the major presidential contenders.
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