So who’s responsible for Congressional Gridlock? Most Americans have a very low opinion of Congress right now and both parties are blaming the other for preventing action being taken on major issues like health care, immigration, education, transportation, energy independence, and global warming.
In the Presidential race Barack Obama is suggesting that progress will be made by everyone working together while Hillary Clinton is noting the partisan nature of American politics and suggesting that it more complicated than that. John McCain wants to continue the Bush agenda.
I think we are facing a watershed election. The problem is not partisan politics per se but the fact that we are facing a significant and defining difference in political philosophy and goals being expressed by the two major parties that signify a major change in the future direction this country is going to take. And I do not believe that the problem is as simple as merely wishing that we all be nice and work together and we will have a great country.
We are facing a major choice in the fundamental principles and philosophy that govern our country – whether the public interest or private corporate interests will be our guiding principle.Voting Republican or Democrat this November will take our country down completely different paths.
I believe that the Republicans have lost touch with the average citizens in America and under Bush/Cheney/Rove have aligned themselves with the corporate world and special financial interests over that of the public interest. Democrats meanwhile are aligning themselves with the public interest and individual rights and protections over corporate interests.
And I think the Democrats are going to increase significantly their numbers in Congress as well as win the Presidency because the American people are ready for change. They have seen the consequences of putting special interests and corporations in charge of running the country. They are ready to put the public interest back into our government goals and agenda rather than the profit motive of individual and corporate greed.
The March 2008 AARP Bulletin gives some historical perspective and some of the factors contributing to the current gridlock in Congress.
“Many political analysts trace the polarization to the 1980s presidency of Ronald Reagan and his bitter tug of war with a Democratic Congress. Reagan moved the Republican Party to the right, shunning liberal or even moderate Republicans…..
Consolidated around conservatives, the GOP grew stronger and, in the 1994 elections during President Clinton’s first term, took control of both the House and Senate, though by margins too slim to exert unrivaled power. In the House, leaders such as Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who were very conservative, gave no quarter to those who disagreed with them, even in their own party. They took hard-line positions and refused to compromise….
Democrats, crushed under Republican power, moved left and in 2006 returned to power in the House under liberal Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. But they, too, found their majority too slim to govern efficiently. Neither party has the numbers to impose its will nor the inclination to make the kinds of compromises that lead to landmark legislation.”
The main reason stalemate remains is because of the filibuster. Because Democrats control the Senate by only a 51 to 49 margin, Republicans despite being the minority, are refusing to compromise on most issues, thus preventing most legislation from passing.
As AARP notes:
“Senate rules provide for filibuster, a procedure that can prolong debate and requires 60 votes to stop. Historically it was rarely used—fewer than seven times a session in the 1960s. Now virtually any vote of consequence requires a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority to close off debate. Last year, minority Republicans used filibusters a record 78 times, nearly 50 percent more than the previous high of 42 in 2002, when Democrats were in the minority.”
So what’s the answer. AARP goes on to say:
Even the most inspirational presidential vision, oratory and leadership are unlikely to move major legislation. [Emory University Professor Meade]Black says it takes one party or the other accumulating enough seats in both houses of Congress to ram bills through on its own. Gridlock in the early 20th century ended in 1932 when Franklin D. Roosevelt and Democrats seized lopsided control of Congress (a 60-35 margin in the Senate and a 310-117 margin in the House).”It’s not the parties coming together, it’s one party moving into the position of being a governing majority,” Black says.
AARP goes on to quote former Senator Bob Graham as saying that “History tells us that bipartisanship is possible.” but I believe that the burden is on the Republicans to prove that point. I don’t agree with Graham’s optimism based on the recent Republican history. When they most recently controlled Congress they acted as bullies. I have heard both Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott and Jay Inslee repeat how under Republican leadership Democrats were excluded from helping to write legislation and they literally only saw bills right before they were to vote on them.
Bipartisan works only if you agree to share power and Republicans have done their damnest to ignore Democrats and legislate unilaterally when they were in power. And they are continuing to do all they can to obstruct Congressional action by increased use of the filibuster and the continued threat and use of a Bush veto. The only way to stop Republican obstructionism is to vote them out of office. And I think that is what the public is going to do come November.