Legislative Gridlock

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“Legislative Gridlock”

Jefferson states that a “government is best which governs least,” but what affect does government inaction have of on our society, and what are the forces that promote this inaction? The competition for power between separated institutions is a driving force in this inaction. When the legislative and executive branches of our government engage in a power struggle, policies that could be potentially beneficial suffer at the hands of legislative gridlock. The polarization of the democrat and republican parties also has an impact on the difficulties faced by Congress. A polarized Congress leads to difficulties in legislating because no one is willing to compromise. The competition of power and polarization between the parties are only 2 of the forces that have led to Congress’ inability to pass laws. The structure of the US government as bicameral legislative body has proven to be the overarching vehicle in Congress’ inaction. In this paper, I explore the arguments in Stalemate (2003) to explain the level of gridlock in the 112th Congress. I focus on the impact of divided government, the polarization of parties, and bicameralism and argue that the difficulties in legislating in 2011 are likely to reappear in 2012.

The 2011 Congress has been referred to as the worst congress ever on many occasions. Incumbents re-seeking election and newcomers hoping for a seat have in the Senate and House have been major supporters behind this public opinion. The strategy of blaming the congress as an institution, rather than assuming responsibility as an individual, has been the strategy for election into congress for years. This has led to what researchers refer to as Fenno’s paradox. Fenno’s paradox is when the public loves their member while hating congress. In 2011, with the 112th Congress, Fenno’s paradox was greatly metastasized. The public felt as if Congress had reached its tipping point, and lacked confidence of its ability to enact and pass laws. There was plenty of supporting evidence for such an assertion. When the deficit, reduction “super-committee”, which was created to cross party borders, and agree on a spending policy, argued throughout the year ended up completely empty handed it became evident that when “Standard & Poor’s downgraded U.S. debt in August, saying it lacked confidence that Washington could come to any agreement on spending policy” (Binder, 2003) there was much validity to this statement. The assertion that the 2011 Congress was the “worst Congress ever” was not attributed lightly. The 112th Congress was responsible for “three separate incidents of nationally televised countdown-clock brinkmanship” (Binder, 2003).These public displays of wanton disregard for policy agreements greatly attributed to this assertion. “I’ve never seen such turmoil and internal conflict,” says former Rep. James L. Oberstar (Hurst, 2012). The biggest piece of supporting evidence that help to brand the 112th congress as the worst Congress ever was the barely averted government shutdown in the spring. This near shutdown was caused by inaction and refusal to agree on the federal debt in the summer and a tax increase for 160 million people in the winter. In the beginning of the year, the 87 freshman House Republicans helped to change House rules and repeal Obama’s healthcare initiative and reduce federal funding to pre-recession levels. Even with their apparent success, they were still thwarted twice in their attempts to cut federal spending. Disputes from this inability to reduce Federal-spending lead to legal, yet underhanded tactics, like Boehner waiting for the entire caucus to go home for the Holidays to accede to the demands of the senate for a 2month extension in the social security payroll tax rate reduction. This action directly negated the efforts of house Republicans during the year, causing more dissention and gridlock among its members. The near government shutdown, disputes among...
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