Why Americans Hate Congress

Lawmakers pondering why the standing of Congress is in the sewer these days need to take a close look at the work of Indiana University’s Center on Congress.

The center says its surveys show that Americans have a pretty good idea of how Congress works — and they don’t like it.

More than 86 percent told center pollsters that lawmakers lie, and 80 percent agreed that members of Congress spend more time getting re-elected than doing their work for the public. About 57 percent don’t like the way this Congress is doing its job, with negative sentiments highest among older and well-educated Americans.

Nightclubs that accommodate more than 100 people and nursing homes soon will have to be outfitted with sprinkler systems. The National Fire Protection Association, the Massachusetts-based organization that sets national fire-code standards, says it is issuing new recommendations for changes after the 2003 fires at a nightclub in Warwick, R.I., and at nursing homes in Hartford, Conn., and Nashville, Tenn., show that sprinkler systems could have saved lives.

Expect controversial Air Force proposals to strip planes from 23 Air National Guard bases to be included in the final cuts announced Sept. 8 by the commission on base closings. These plans have provoked howls of protests from governors, who have sued to block the closings, but it looks like the panel is agreeing with the generals that having too many National Guard airports wastes money.

The Office of Management and Budget is once again issuing government-backed credit cards to federal employees _ two years after a previous experiment resulted in a debacle of bureaucrats billing Uncle Sam for department-store spending sprees, luxury-cruise-line travel and other personal expenditures.

This time around, OMB is instructing federal agencies that the cards are not to be given to federal employees who have bum credit records. OMB Controller Linda Combs says government auditors also will be required to closely scrutinize how the cards are used and make prompt payments to credit-card companies.

Three years ago, the agency rescinded 400,000 credit cards given to Pentagon employees and resorted to garnisheed wages to get back misspent money.

Veterans groups are up in arms over a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general that has touched off a review of some of the payments of up to $2,300 a month given to disabled vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders.

The inspector general found that cases of traumatized veterans are skyrocketing, from 120,000 in 1999 to 216,000 last year, and the cost to taxpayers almost tripled from $1.7 billion to $4.3 billion in that period.

Unlike cases where veterans lost limbs in combat and their disability is clear, the auditors said PTSD determinations are subjective and they unearthed about 2.5 percent clearly involving fraud. The auditors noted that the increase in claims coincides with a proliferation of Web sites providing advice for how Iraqi war vets can claim the benefits. VA Secretary Jim Nicholson has ordered a review of the program.

The Congressional Black Caucus is entering into the radio wars _ launching a lobbying blitz to persuade Sirius Satellite Radio to keep Jesse Jackson’s religious program, “The Word Network,” on the air past Sept. 2. Sirius is dropping Jackson from its lineup, but the lawmakers argue that if the views of shock-jock Howard Stern merit broadcasting by Sirius, air space should be kept for Jackson’s message, too.

The American Civil Liberties Union is campaigning against state laws permitting police to administer breath tests to woozy teenage pedestrians. Police in Michigan recently began enforcing a state law aimed at curbing illegal drinking by those under 21, but the ACLU argues that police need a search warrant before forcing pedestrians to take the tests.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)SHNS.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com)