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Poll Reflects a Seething, Alienated Public

Americans aren't happy. They see the country headed on the wrong track. They aren't satisfied with the economic recovery. They have low opinions of the President and Congress. They think America is in decline. They believe a widening gap in incomes undermines the idea of opportunity for all.

Those are some of the findings from a poll conducted this month by Hart Research Associates for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. Hart interviewed 1,000 American adults, including 350 respondents who only have a cell phone, which yielded a broad spectrum of participation, including 11 percent from adults between the ages of 18 and 24. 

The public rarely has an opportunity to see raw poll results from a credible pollster. Hart Research was founded by Peter Hart in 1971. In addition to work for Democrats, Hart Research has conducted surveys for nonprofits and social causes. Since 1989, Hart has teamed with a leading Republican pollster to conduct polls shared with the public. 

Some of the findings in the latest poll aren't surprising and don't veer from recent trends. The last time Americans thought the country was headed in the right direction was April 2009 and even then it was a 43-43 percent tie.

Much is made of declines in approval ratings for President Obama, but they aren't as severe as some suggest. The August poll showed 42 percent of respondents approved of Obama's handling of the economy, compared to 53 percent disapproving. However, the low-water mark for Obama came in May 2011 when his approval rating was just 37 percent. It was 39 percent as recently as last December.

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The Transportation Investment Conundrum

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer is preparing to push a legislation to raise the federal gas tax by 15 cents per gallon and lay the groundwork for a transition to what he terms a more stable source of funding for U.S. transportation infrastructure.

In the current congressional climate, it doesn't seem as if Blumenauer's ​"Update, Promote and Develop America's Transportation Essentials Act" has much of a chance to see the light of day, let alone pass a sharply divided Congress.

Blumenauer spent time in Oregon during the congressional break to tout the legislation. He says added gas tax revenue will help catch up on lagging transportation investment and relieve pressure on the federal general fund, which has been tapped to supplement the Federal Highway Trust Fund that is running on empty.

Congress grabbed $50 billion from the federal general fund to sustain projects underway as part of the federal transportation bill that expires at the end of 2014.

As vehicles have become more fuel efficient — and some have stopped using gas or diesel altogether — federal and state highway trust funds have felt the squeeze of declining revenues relative to road miles they must maintain, upgrade or expand. 

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Lobbying Okay; Lobbyists Not So Much

New survey data indicates Americans don't mind lobbying; they just don't like lobbyists. 

The 2014 Public Affairs Council survey shows support for lobbying has grown since 2012, despite the seeming dysfunction in Washington, DC that has led to fewer bills being passed by Congress. 

[New York Times columnist Charles Blow consulted the Library of Congress website to compare the productivity of Congress in the first 19 months of each term from the 104th Congress (1995-1996) to the 113th Congress (2013-2104). The 113th Congress has passed the fewest bills (108) of any Congress in the last two decades. Its closest rival was the 112th Congress with 110 bills.]

According to the nonpartisan Public Affairs Council, strong majorities of Americans favor lobbying to protect jobs (84 percent), open new markets (79 percent), create a level playing field (74 percent) and reduce business costs (68 percent).

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Income Disparity Blamed for Slow Growth

Warnings about the ramifications of income inequality usually don't come from Wall Street. This week, they did.

Standard & Poor's chief economist says growing income disparity is retarding overall growth in the U.S. economy and poses a future threat of even deeper boom/bust cycles. The concentration of wealth by a few has stifled spending and saving by the many. 

The remedy urged by S&P involves redoubled commitment to quality education. The rating agency's report says more schooling translates into higher earning capacity. If the average American worker logged one additional year of education, S&P estimated it would add $105 billion per year to overall national economic activity.

S&P discouraged use of tax policy to cure income inequality. It said higher taxes could remove incentives to work and convince employers to hire fewer workers.

When worker wages lag, the S&P report concluded, lower wage earners tend to curb spending or go deeper into debt when faced with emergencies such as medical expenses or the need for a replacement vehicle to get to work. 

The report by S&P confirms the income disparity is expanding. While the top 1 percent of U.S. wage earners raked in an average of $1.3 million in 2012, the bottom 90 percent have seen their incomes erode after adjusting for inflation for the past 13 years.

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Spending Big Money to Fight Big-Money Contributions

Most political action committee solicitations don't start with "Embrace the irony," but the crowd-funded Mayday Super PAC is different. It is spending big sums to rail against big-money Super PACs. 

The brainchild of liberals, big donors and Republican strategists, the Mayday PAC is an attempt to get the issue of big money in politics on the table as a discussion topic in the upcoming general election and beyond. 

This isn't civil disobedience to fight injustice. This is an all-out attempt to spend money to fight money. Think of it as the anti-Koch brothers PAC.

The Mayday ad campaign is scheduled to launch next week in Iowa and New Hampshire. The campaign in New Hampshire will support Jim Rubens, a former GOP state senator, in a Republican primary against transplanted former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown in the Granite State's upcoming GOP primary. In Iowa, Mayday is backing Staci Appel, a Democrat, for an open congressional seat. 

Mayday is aligned with another new organization, Every Voice, that will focus on state races, with the same overall message, but with a different emphasis on raising money at the grassroots level from small donors to offset big-donor giving.

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