A Washington Post-ABC survey released Monday found that 60 percent of those polled expressed disapproval of Obama's handling of the economy. Thirty-four percent said his proposals were making the situation worse and 47 percent said they were having no effect — dismal soundings for a president headed into a re-election campaign.
Only 19 percent said the country was moving in the right direction.
Not that Republicans, or Congress as a whole, are in good odor with the voters.
The Post-ABC News poll found only 28 percent approval for the job the Republicans are doing, and 68 percent disapproval.
An AP-GfK survey last month put overall support for Congress at 12 percent — the lowest level ever in the survey's history.
The tea party has also been hurt, according to the same poll, which found that 32 percent of those surveyed have a deeply unfavorable impression of the movement that helped give Republicans control of the House in the 2010 elections.
In their letter to Obama, Boehner and Cantor wrote that neither party would win all it wants from the coming debate over jobs legislation. "We should not approach this as an all-or-nothing situation," they said, striking a conciliatory tone in the first moments of a post-summer session of Congress.
But it was unclear what, if any, concessions they were prepared to make.
"We are not opposed to initiatives to repair and improve infrastructure," they wrote, saying they favor repeal of a current requirement for 10 percent of highway funds to be spent on items such as museums or bike trails.
But they did not say they would support any additional funding for construction, and aides declined to provide any additional details.
Boehner and Cantor also said the House was ready to pass free trade agreements negotiated with Colombia, Panama and South Korea measures, which they noted the White House estimates would create 250,000 jobs.
The administration wants the trade deals approved simultaneously with legislation to provide job training and other benefits for workers who lose their job to imports, and the letter from the Republican leaders promised they would consider such measures rather than pledging to pass them.
There was maneuvering on another front during the day.
Democrats won approval in a Senate subcommittee for legislation adding $6 billion in spending to pay victims of Hurricane Irene and past disasters dating to Hurricane Katrina, including $4 billion for the 2012 budget year.
Republicans did not object, even though the legislation did not include other cuts to offset the cost and the new spending would exceed levels permitted in a sweeping compromise passed last month to cut future deficits by nearly $1 trillion over a decade.
It is unclear when the measure will come to the Senate floor, and whether Republicans will attempt to offset the increase when it does.
In comments in recent weeks, Cantor has said any increase must be offset.
For his part, Romney chose Nevada, where unemployment stood at a nationwide high of 12.9 percent in July, for a campaign speech in which he outlined numerous proposals to create jobs.
He called for lowering the maximum corporate tax from 35 percent to 25 percent and abolishing the tax on dividends and investment earnings for anyone making less than $200,000 a year. He also said any new government regulation that raises costs for businesses should be accompanied by other steps to reduce the burden by an identical amount.
"America should be a job machine, jobs being created all the time," he said.
The elements Romney outlined — lower taxes and less regulation — are the same as those advanced by Republicans in Congress.
McConnell said Republicans "will spend the next weeks and months arguing in favor of a robust legislation agenda aimed at blocking or repealing some of the most pernicious rules and regulations."
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