Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The US Senate: “Gridlock? What Gridlock?”

The U.S. Congress currently suffers from a nearly record-high 80% disapproval rating. While the reasons for this historically high disapproval rating are complex and varied, many Americans are frustrated with the Gridlock currently plaguing Congress.  Fillibuster usage is higher than ever, and the public believes that it takes a great effort to get even uncontroversial Presidential appointees confirmed.

While Americans remain frustrated with Gridlock in Congress, some Senators are wondering why they believe the legislative process is going so slowly.  According to a recent Politico article, the U.S. Senate has actually enjoyed a period of bipartisanship and cooperation over the past several months.  The article explains how the Senate has been able to run relatively efficiently recently--for example, out of the 13 judicial nominees, none have been blocked, and most have enjoyed yes votes from over 90 out of 100 senators.  Although no controversial bills have been passed, the behavior of the Senate is still notable.  

The two parties offer different explanations for the cooperation.  Republicans explain that they are trying to cooperate with Democrats so that the Democratic Senators will vote for jobs bills that the House has already passed.  Democrats explain the Republicans cooperative attitude by explaining that their rivals are attempting to shake the “obstructionist” label placed on them after the debt ceiling debates last summer.

It seems that although the Senate has been working with a renewed sense of cooperation recently, both parties admit that the reasons are more political than because of larger ideological shift towards increased cooperation.  It will be interesting to see how this climate changes throughout this summer as the fall elections draw closer.  What impacts will this change have on Gridlock and public opinion?  Does this increase in cooperation signal a permanent change of behavior in the Senate?

1 comment:

  1. This is a very interesting observation. I think it underscorse the fact that, despite all of the different procedural mecahnisms and structural changes that have been discussed and proposed with regards to changing the government to overcome gridlock, the real solution is one that is already available - vote for change. It is so easy for all of us, myself included, to give in to a sense of powerlessness in the face of big systemic problems. However, the recent bipartisanship that you describe should be seen as empowering to American voters. No matter how detatched politicians may seem at times, they still fundamentally work for us. If we the voters make it clear that we simply sill not tolerate partisanship and inaction, Congress will have no choice but to respond accordingly.

    The biggest challenges of course are twofold: first, translate this willingness to work together from a mere symbolic gesture to boost approval ratings into a willingness to actually address the tougher issues. And second, to keep the pressure up even after the election cycle ends. I wish I had a clear idea of how to do this but I do not.

    On the one hand it seems like the only way to get the message accross to Congress is to literally purge a substantial portion of current congressmen and seantors. This would ceratinly have the intended effect of scaring them stiff even beyond the immediate election cycle. However, it is difficult to know what other effects such a large, en masse replacement of policticians would have on governance. For example, this happened in part when the Tea Party-ers were elected two years ago. That incident dmeonstrated that, while such replacements can have an effect on Congress' psyche, newcomers have a steep learning curve and are not necessarily able to organize themselves in the same manner and efficiency as can more experienced politicians.