Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sources of Gridlock

Michael Barone writing at The American Interest makes a fascinating point about the origin of the gridlock we are currently seeing in DC. The full post is here.
The evidence suggests that partisan polarization in the absence of supermajorities does not cause gridlock. What can and has caused it on so many important domestic policy issues has been electoral volatility. From the TARP example to a raft of others, it is clear that as long as enough congressional members with safe seats are prepared to hammer out deals across party and ideological lines, significant legislation can pass. Not only will this be true for the next Congress, it has been true for most recent ones, as a little historical review shows.

So is gridlock OUR fault as a nation, rather than the product of polarizing, selfish ideologues in DC? Have our electoral tastes become increasingly fickle over time? Or, as Barone goes on to discuss, is it the composition of our parties that is at fault? Either way, the effects of outside forces such as demographics, population movements, and voter mindsets cannot be underestimated as causes for the modern state of affairs in the nation's capital.

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting article. But I don't agree with Barone. The bipartisan legislative accomplishments he lists don't impress. None of them (at least since the Social Security deal in the 80s) called for much self-sacrifice by the American people to deal with our big problems. The prescription drug benefit was simply placed on the federal credit card. For decades, we have know that health care costs are making us uncompetitive internationally and driving us into bankruptcy. But there is no appetite by either party to deal seriously with health care costs. On global warming, not only is there no appetite to call on Americans to turn down their themostats, but now we can't even agree that there is a problem. So even if we had less volatility, I don't see gridlock easing to enable us to truly address big problems.

    Electoral volitility contributes to gridlock, I agree. But the cause of our upcoming gridlock will be the new mantra among new members -- no compromise on our principles or else establishment candidates will face a primary challenge. The Tea Party has shown it can defeat incumbents on the right. There was less action (but some) on the left and don't be surprised if we see more calls for ideological purity from that direction after this coming election. I fear that the conditions allowing for bipartisan legislation are eroding before our eyes.