As Congress and President Carter square off for a series of potential veto confrontations over the defense budget, college tuition tax credit, the tax cut bill and other issues, it is significant that Congress receives a higher job rating from Americans than does the president.
Carter's job rating, according to the latest Harris-ABC Poll of 1,238 adults nationwide, is 69 to 30 percent negative, while Congress scores slightly better - 63 to 34 percent negative. Over the 15 years of Harris Survey presidential and congressional job ratings, only once before has Congress stood higher than the president: in the summer of 1974, when the House was holding hearings on whether to recommend impeachment of Richard Nixon.
The common assumption has been that presidents have more access to the news media and can speak with a single voice, whereas Congress is made up of 535 individuals, widely diverse and diffuse in point of view, and quite lacking in capacity to communicate clearly to the public. The prevailing wisdom is that the basis advantages lie with the president in a showdown with the legislative branch.
Before he laid out his latest challenge to Congress by his veto of the weapons procurement bill and his threatened other vetoes, Carter had reached his all-time low rating of 62 to 30 percent negative on handling relations with Congress. His seeming inability to get Congress to pass much of his recommended legislation has contributed to the general impression of ineffectiveness that Americans have come to associate with Carter.
Yet, in its relations with this president. Congress receives negative ratings not only when it passes bills the president requests but when it doesn't:
By 63 to 30 percent, a sizable majority gives Congress negative marks for approving the Panama Canal treaties, perhaps Carter's major legislative push in 1978.
By 57 to 30 percent, a majority also gives Congress a negative rating for approving sales of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, another major Carter foreign policy step.
However, Congress receives a sizable 67 to 23 percent negative rating for not enacting an energy bill, which Carter called the "moral equivalent of war."