"It's pathetic. Nobody's doing their job," said Laura Hager, a retiree from Lancaster, Pa. "The rest of the country is being held hostage to this entire situation."
She said the uncertainty makes it difficult to shape a personal financial plan; she can't imagine what business leaders must be going through. "Nobody can plan. Nobody knows what they'll do," she said.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., warned that the public's disgust with Congress would reach new heights if lawmakers and the White House fail to reach an accord before the year-end deadline.
"Ninety percent disapproval rating is going to go up to 99 percent disapproval," the senator said at a panel discussion last week in Washington on the fiscal cliff's impact on businesses.
Warner overstated Congress' unpopularity, although not by much.
A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that 74 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job; just 23 percent approve. The figures are virtually unchanged from June and slightly above Congress' recent low point of 12 percent approval during the debt ceiling debate in August 2011.
Some voters are trying to ignore the debate altogether, although near-constant news coverage is making that difficult, especially as Obama and his Republican opponents work to rally their supporters.
In a campaign-style event Monday in Michigan, the heart of industrial America, Obama warned that he "won't compromise" on his demand that the wealthiest Americans pay more in taxes. Polls find that most voters agree with the president's deficit-cutting plan to raise tax rates on income over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples, although House Republicans are reluctant to agree.
The conservative group Crossroads GPS is running television ads across the country describing Obama's solution as "a huge tax increase" with "no real spending reforms." ''Call President Obama and tell him it's time to show us a balanced plan," the ad says.