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Drama on the Hill: Americans shrug

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"You get close enough to Washington and you can smell the stink," says Nick Zeger, a young pharmacy technician who voted for Bush, outside a Nashville grocery store. "I'm disgusted with the Republicans in the fact that it's come to this, but I'm more disgusted with the Democrats for refusing to work with them.'' And if he had to blame anyone for the impasse? "It would be the American people - because we're the voters and we chose these clown acts to go to Washington."

Congress gets no respect

Part of that attitude reflects a general dissatisfaction with government right now. Polls show approval for Congress down around 35 percent, approaching the lows during the government shutdown of 1995.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released last week, for instance, found that 51 percent of Americans disapproved of the job Congress is doing versus 33 percent who approved. Perhaps more worrisome for lawmakers, 65 percent of the respondents said Congress has a different set of priorities than the rest of the country.

With gas prices soaring, violence remaining entrenched in Iraq, and Social Security a major concern, arguments about how judges are confirmed, whether the courts are being stacked, or whether the minority party's rights are being protected seem distant and procedural to many.

"There's a sense of frustration on the part of the public that there are big problems out there, and we have big majorities thinking the country is losing ground on problems, but none of them has much to do with the issues at the heart of the filibuster battle," says Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center.

In a Pew poll conducted last week, just 14 percent of those surveyed said they were following the filibuster showdown closely, Mr. Keeter notes, compared to 58 percent who said they were following the price of gasoline and 42 percent who admitted to keeping close tabs on Iraq.

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