At a recent town meeting in his congressional district west of Sacramento, Calif., Democratic Rep. Vic Fazio found his consitituents angry about peace in the Middle East.
"We bought peace, why should we pay for it?" Fazio said voters asked him.
"I bet if I had taken a poll, 70 percent would have been opposed to spending the money to implement the Middle East peace," he said. "I really don't find people in a very charitable mood. There's a negative mood, a tremendous amount of anger."
As a result, Congress isn't in a charitable mood either. It has been asked to do little this year, and it has done even less.
"With the public in the mood they're in now, it gets translated into saying no to things in Congress, particularly anything that costs money," said Rep. William R. Ratchford (D-Conn.).
Just a week ago, President Carter expressed his frustration with Congress in a speech before the Democratic National Committee. House Democrats had just voted overwhelmingly against oil price decontrol, the House had killed his standby rationing plan, the Panama Canal bill was in trouble, hospital cost containment remained stalled and real wage insurance had been rejected.
Carter lashed out at "political timidity" and said that "we need positive political solutions in America, not just a sustained record of negative votes to appease some powerful political groups back home."
Rep. Richard Bolling (D-Mo.), a 31-year veteran of the House and chairman of the Rules Committee, put it more bluntly after the gas rationing plan vote. He called the 96th Congress the "most gutless" he had ever seen.
In interviews, five House Democrats and one Republican talked about the current Congress, their own frustrations and the relationship between Congress and Carter.
Rep. Wyche Fowler Jr., a moderate Democrat from Atlanta, agreed with Carter's statement about "political timidity" and sympathized with the president up to a point. Fowler said:
"The president is being made the whipping boy for a lot of sins he hasn't committed. But if you talk about sins of ommission, Congress shares equally in blame. The difficulty is, though, Congress is very much like the president. This is a rivalry of people who got where they are the same way he got where he is, by being proudly independent and anti-establishment and by campaigning and saying we'll do things differently.
"Now we're all in Washington together. You get up here and it's easier said than done. There's entrenched forces in the bureaucracies with resources and special interests behind them. So we've got frustration coming out of every pore up here, too."
"There's a retrenchment mentality," Rep. Floyd J. Fithian (D-Ind.) said. "The House is very reflective of the country. If we had a consensus we could pass a bill in three weeks. The problem is there's no consensus.
"Seventy-five percent of my constituents feel oil will flow again when gas gets to $1.50 a gallon. There's a suspicion oil companies, congressmen and senators and the president are in cahoots together."
Fithian, like all of the five Democrats interviewed but Fowler, voted against decontrol. Carter, says Fithian gave away "leverage" he could have used to get a tough windfall profits tax.
However, Rep. Douglas K. Bereuter (R-Kan.) called the Democratic Caucus vote against decontrol "a cheap shot" whose only purpose was to enable Democrats to tell voters they were against higher oil prices when they take effect under decontrol next year.
But as a Republican he has begun to question the partisanship of his own party. "The problem of energy is so serious we're almost approaching a condition of war," he said, "Carter is in such bad trouble with his own people, we almost have to return to bipartisanship on that issue."
Democrats, not surprisingly, were more sympathetic to Carter. They were respectful, even awed by his willingness to take on tough problems. But their respect does not translate into a willingness to suspend judgment and vote for his programs.
Rep. Marty Russo (D-Ill.), from a suburban Chicago district, said, "You look at the issues, you tell me what president had to face the kind of problems Jimmy Carter has: energy, inflation, SALT (strategic arms limitation treaty) government reform. Who has had all the dumped on him at once? Teddy Kennedy, Jerry Brown, Ronald Reagan - I don't care who they are - they'd be having the same problems right now."
Russo serves on the House Commerce Committee, where Carter is trying to get hospital cost containment legislation approved. Russo voted against it last year because the administration was too "inflexible" in making changes.
This year Russo is against it because the administration has allowed so many exemptions that, he said, only "20 percent of the hospitals are covered." He added, "I wonder if you need national regulation for 20 percent of one industry?"
Fithian attributes Carter's erosion of support to the president's success in tackling difficult issues. Every difficult measure he succeeded in winning lost him another large group of supporters, Fithian contends, ticking them off: "Vetoing water projects lost him the West; aid to Turkey, the Greeks; Panama Canal, the American Legion vote."
Fithian sees a great danger in the breaking down of the country into single issue groups with no overriding national interest prevailing. He explained, "Everybody's got an issue and a computer, but as a result the process of governing by consensus may be in serious jeopardy."
Two other thoughts frequently were expressed in the interviews. Congressmen recognize, but are reluctant to tell their constituents, as Russo put it, that "the golden age is over."
Fithian said: "Two hundred year of living in a cornucopia is over. I think the whole 'turn to Teddy' movement is a yearning to ignore that fact, a yearning by Democrats and other Americans to go back to Comelot."
In various ways, all six expressed a longing for a crisis that would snap Americans out of their selfishness and allow leaders to call for sel-sacrifice.
"I hope for a day soon when all of us could legitimately call for a sacrifice of self-interest," Fithian said.
"I'm afraid we're going to be drifting until things get worse," Fowler said. He added it might be the only way to get the public off "the habit of consumptiveness," and the Congress and the president together.