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Inside the Beltway: Potholes more popular than Congress

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Should Congress make English the official language of the U.S.?

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How low can Congress go? Alas, voters have a more favorable opinion of the IRS, jury duty, hipsters, potholes, cockroaches, mothers-in-law, toenail fungus, public radio fundraising drives, motor vehicle departments, hemorrhoids and even "dog poop" than they do of Congress. These are serious findings from a Public Policy Polling survey of 502 registered U.S. voters released Tuesday, for better or worse.

Lawmakers, who only achieved an 8 percent favorability rating, did beat a few other public figures, though. But not many. Majorities of the voters have a higher opinion of Congress than of former New York City mayoral hopeful Anthony D. Weiner. The lawmakers also found more favor than Russia President Vladimir Putin, reality TV tot Honey Boo Boo, raucous singer Miley Cyrus and twerking — her dance of choice.

"Congress having an 8 percent approval rating tells us one thing about how unhappy voters are," says Dean Debnam, president of the polling group. "But it's even more telling that voters have a lower opinion of it than annoyances like the DMV and jury duty, and health issues like hemorrhoids."

SHUTDOWN VANITY

It is the ultimate challenge for powerful men in the nation's capital who know the value of a flawlessly shaved cheek and a haircut to be reckoned with: "Don't let the shutdown hinder your handsomeness," say those who purvey the tools of the trade.

"The government may be shut down in Washington, but the business of handsomeness shouldn't be compromised," notes an urgent outreach from the Grooming Lounge, an upscale retailer where manly fare from the likes of Molton Brown and Aqua de Parma is the norm. There are two shops in the area, one about six blocks from the White House.

The company is now offering a 15 percent discount for federal employees languishing under the shutdown.

"The purveyors of handsomeness at Grooming Lounge are doing their part by keeping the furloughed relaxed and looking their best at a price they can afford. The only exception? The deal doesn't apply to members of Congress just yet — they have work to do and can receive their discount after the government is back up and running," the company advises.

POST PRESS CONFERENCE

President Obama drew some creative criticism following his one-hour news conference on everything and nothing Tuesday.

"The most powerful man on earth, the leader of the free world, lashed out at conservatives in Congress whom he labeled as 'extremists,' accusing them of 'ransom' and 'extortion,' even comparing them to a 'deadbeat' who doesn't pay the mortgage," declares Nile Gardiner, a columnist based in Washington for Britain's Daily Telegraph.

"This was a childish, as well as unpleasant, display of petulance by Mr. Obama, who treats elected officials as though they were puppets who should dance to his tune," Mr. Gardiner notes. "It was followed by an embarrassing set of hand-picked questions from a largely subservient liberal-dominated media, none of which seriously challenged the president's policies or his handling of the shutdown."

He adds, "In the U.K., a British prime minister would never get away with this kind of performance without a barrage of relentlessly tough questioning."

His American counterparts are onto that, though.

"ObamaCare received scant mention at President Obama's press conference, despite sustained problems with the law's online enrollment portal," points out Elise Viebeck, who covers health policy issues for The Hill.

"The minor, offhand references to the health care law highlight how much the ongoing fiscal stalemate has seized Washington's attention and distracted from the rocky debut of ObamaCare's exchanges. The dearth of media questions about the Affordable Care Act is even more surprising given that attempts to thwart the law ushered in the shutdown to begin with," she says.

'IF A REPUBLICAN HAD DONE IT'

Whether it was hasty typing or errant spell check, White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer conducted immediate damage control following what universally was deemed an "unfortunate tweet" by the press on Tuesday. His brief mass message to 54,335 Twitter followers included an unintentional racial epithet.

Yeah, well. It was "a horrendous typomy apologies," Mr. Pfeiffer explained later.

"A few sniggers were aimed at Dan Pfeiffer," points out Glenn Reynolds, the "Instapundit" at PJ Media. "But if a Republican had done it, it would have made the evening news."

FOR THE LEXICON

"SpiteHouse cones."

Meant to block entry into parks and historic monuments, they join the term "Barrycades" in the current federal toolbox of deterrents used by law enforcement authorities at sites closed during the government shutdown. The term was first identified at Twitchy.com.

WHERE THERE'S SMOKE

The government shutdown is expected to delay a much anticipated Food and Drug Administration ruling likely to curb TV advertisements of e-cigarettes, deemed a "booming industry" by Advertising Age. Almost half of the federal agency's staff has been furloughed, including those working on tobacco issues. There's drama overseas, meanwhile. On Tuesday, the European Parliament rejected health officials' proposals to tightly regulate e-cigarettes, a decision not lost on observers on these shores.

"The European Parliament's decision not to treat e-cigarettes like medical devices is a huge win for smokers trying to quit, and thus great news for public health," says Jeff Stier, a policy analyst at the National Center for Public Policy Research. Such a move would have made e-cigarettes "prohibitively expensive," he says.

"Switching from burning tobacco to combustion-free e-cigarettes would yield significant health benefits both in the short and long terms. Banning e-cigarette sales to minors, but keeping them accessible to adults, strikes the right balance," Mr. Stier continues.

"But as usual, activists on the nanny-state side want the government to get in the way of free-market approaches that work. That they didn't succeed in Europe is a big win for actual public health, but a loss for ideologically driven activist groups," he adds. "Now, attention shifts to the U.S., where FDA has promised a decision very soon. We can only hope that the FDA takes note of Europe's rational approach."

POLL DU JOUR

88 percent of Americans say the "government is in charge of the people"; 94 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats agree.

8 percent overall say "the people are in charge of the government"; 4 percent of Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats agree.

62 percent overall say the federal debt limit should be increased only after making "major cuts in government spending"; 77 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of Democrats agree.

27 percent say the debt limit must be raised and it is "reckless" not to raise it; 11 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Democrats agree.

58 percent overall would vote against raising the debt limit if they served in Congress; 78 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats agree.

37 percent overall would vote in favor of raising the debt limit; 15 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Fox News poll of 952 registered U.S. voters conducted Oct. 1 and 2.

Murmurs and asides to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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