Monday, April 23, 2012

Springtime in Washington...Brings Legislative Success?

Early April saw a glimpse of bipartisanship in the passage of the STOCK and JOBS Acts. The JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act, aims to foster entrepreneurship and small business growth as it relaxes regulation for firms entering the public market. The STOCK Act tightens regulation, preventing members of Congress from trading on insider information. “Bipartisanship often survives not because people are feeling good or feeling civil, but because it’s in the interest of both parties to play ball at something,” said Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey in the wake of this unfamiliar legislative success.

We have spent a lot of time talking about what is wrong in Washington, huffing and puffing about gridlocked legislation. The passage of the JOBS and STOCK Acts in the midst of this political climate is evidence enough that we should spend more time analyzing what legislation has been passed and try to recreate that perfect storm.

I began to think of a few characteristics of Gridlock “immune” legislation. I would love input as to this method of addressing our defined problems in Washington and whether you think any of these characteristic common in successful legislation.

1.    Items that are have less visibility, causing less discussion
Whereas Healthcare and Budget reform are very visible issues and have potential to anger political bases, the STOCK Act and JOBS Act are focused on less contentious issues.
2.    Issues involving people’s faith in elected officials
The STOCK Act is a great example of this. Passed in March, it bars members of Congress and staff from trading stocks based on nonpublic information obtained in their work.
3.    PR-savvy name
As discussed in an earlier blog by Matthew Chase, bills with names like “The Violence Against Women Act” and “No Child Left Behind” are hard for members to vote against. Again, in a time when our economy is so volatile, voting against “JOBS” might not be in one’s best political interest.
4.    Strategic sponsor
Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, sponsored the STOCK Act is an exemplar of bipartisanship in congress and is a political actor that Republicans and Democrats alike can organize behind. 


  1. I agree with you all of these are very important facets of how a piece of legislation can make it through our legislative process with little or no contention. However, even these seemingly harmless acts can raise a storm in congress if either party tries to sneak in some clause that will get them what they want on a completely separate issue say for example the Keystone pipeline project.

    If a Republican adds a clause somewhere in the middle of JOBS that ratifies it's construction there is no way that Democrats will simply say yes because the bill has a name and purpose that is mutually beneficial for all.

  2. This is a really interesting question and after rereading the four categories you mentioned I tend to agree more with the first two categories compared to the last two. I think that items that have less visibility and are historically deems less contentious do in fact have an easier time getting passed because both parties know this has less of an impact on voters and that they are able to find mutual benefits in this time of legislation and it does not need to be a zero-sum game scenario. However, as Evan has expressed that is not to say that this type of legislation is overlooked. I also think that legislation involving improving people’s faith in public officials (especially legislators) is definitely more immune to gridlock. The public consistently shows its dissatisfaction with Congress and anything to improve this stance could go a long way in the eye’s of the people.

    As for the other two categories I think that it isn’t extremely difficult to create a PR-savvy name for legislation and although a strategic sponsor could help get legislation passed it could also hurt and dissatisfy the opposition party.