HOOKSETT, N.H. - Five hundred miles from Washington, the lunch crowd at Robie's Country Store and Deli is filled with angst over America's elected leaders and their latest struggle to prevent a fiscal crisis.
"I don't know if I know all the ins and outs," says Kimberlee Roux of nearby Manchester as she waits for her lunch order at the popular New Hampshire outpost. "But I think this one's more serious than the others."
Indeed, unless Congress acts by year's end, the nation will fall off a "fiscal cliff," triggering broad tax increases for most Americans and massive spending cuts that economists warn could lead to another recession. Roux, a 50-year-old accountant, worries about her personal finances and fears the spending cuts may affect her disabled brother's benefits.
From New Hampshire diners to Colorado coffee shops, weary residents share Roux's concerns. They relate the debate in Washington over their tax dollars with their own lives: average Americans who are struggling every day to make ends meet. And already distracted by the holidays and tired of politics after a bitter presidential campaign, they are calling on Washington to get its act together.
At Robie's, a roadside diner with walls plastered with political memorabilia, John Pfeifle shares his concerns while trying to enjoy the $6.99 chicken parmesan special.
"Somebody's gotta have some smarts," says the 63-year-old business owner, complaining that both President Barack Obama and House Republicans seem willing to allow the nation to go over the cliff.
"I have no faith at all they'll do the right thing," Pfeifle said.
And why would these voters have confidence in Washington?
The scene playing out on Capitol Hill is a familiar one as lawmakers with competing ideologies wage an 11th-hour battle to avert another predictable crisis. This one comes just a year after an equally divided Washington nearly let the country default on its loan obligations - a debt-ceiling debate that contributed to the electorate's deep lack of faith in elected leaders and a drop in the nation's credit rating.
Evidence of Congress' plummeting popularity is everywhere.
"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.