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• More consumer protections for credit card users.

• Making it easier for women to challenge pay discrimination.

• Increasing federal regulation of tobacco products.

• Making attacks based on sexual orientation federal hate crimes.

• Giving businesses tax incentives to hire unemployed workers.

• Tax credits for first-time homeowners.

So where is the love?

Polls suggest that three-fourths of Americans disapprove of Congress.

The 1960s were a time of upheaval, and Medicare arrived only after a bitter debate echoing with cries from the right that socialism was on the march in America. Yet people had a lot more faith in government to do the right thing, polls from that time indicate.

Medicare grew to be so popular that Republicans, the party that resisted it, have been quick to accuse Democrats of trying to cut it when they proposed to slow its growth and use the savings to help provide medical care to millions of Americans who lack health insurance.

An erosion of trust in institutions in general has enabled Republicans to score points by arguing that Democrats’ big government programs are exploding the national debt, Mr. Ornstein said. The result, he added, is that not many Democrats are campaigning on the benefits of the stimulus package, even though one-third of the program was tax cuts that put money into most people’s pockets.

But in taking on issues for the history books, Democrats have failed on some matters close to the hearts of allies whose energy is vital in an election. Legislation making it easier to unionize workplaces is stalled, Hispanics are still pressing for an overhaul of the immigration system and environmental groups want action on climate change.

Democratic leaders put off action for nearly two years on preventing a massive tax increase come Jan. 1, when the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush expire. They couldn’t even put a budget together this year. But it’s not what Congress didn’t accomplish the past two years; it’s what it did do that seems to have voters most riled.