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Why This Gridlock is Different

NBC has an interesting article “A New Kind of Gridlock: Why Congress Is More Broken Than Ever“. I’m usually skeptical about articles like this, because we are always seeing people claim that things are getting worse, when in general, things are actually getting mostly better. The number of wars is going down, tolerance for other races and sexual identities is going up, we are getting rid of stupid victimless laws, like the ones that were putting people in jail just for smoking marijuana.

But the article does make a good point. Here’s the first paragraph:

Yes, Congress has typically been divided over ideology (liberal vs. conservative) or geography (North vs. South, big states vs. small ones). And, yes, partisan flare-ups in the summer of an election year are hardly new. But here is why this Congress appears more broken than past ones: It can’t even seem to do the small, bipartisan things anymore. Case in point is the legislative dysfunction surrounding the responses to 1) the unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and 2) reforming the VA hospitals across the country. Almost every member — Democratic or Republican — said the situation at the border was a humanitarian crisis that needed a response. But passing emergency spending (between $2 to $4 billion in aid) has become such a difficult lift, and looks less likely by the day. Last month, every member of Congress said VA hospitals needed to better serve veterans, and the Senate (by a 93-3 vote) and House (426-0) passed legislation to reform these hospitals. But they’ve been unable to come together in a conference committee to reconcile the two bills. Folks, we’re not talking about overhauling the nation’s health-care system, enacting comprehensive immigration reform, raising taxes, or changing entitlement programs — all of which have sparked fierce ideological battles in the past. We’re talking about the small stuff, actions that either have near-universal support or that cost relative drops in the federal budget. That’s why this gridlock is different.

And indeed, even the Wall Street Journal is pointing out that as Congress adjourns for the entire month of August, they have accomplished almost nothing so far.

As an executive at a public affairs firm put it “We’ve reached the point in Washington where compromise is the equivalent of collaborating with the enemy,” thanks in part to election-year dynamics. “You’ve got everybody jockeying for position and they’d rather have issues than solutions.”

When did win-win become a filthy word in Washington?



  1. ebdoug wrote:

    And what would the VA situation be now had baby Bush not invaded Iraq?

    Saturday, August 2, 2014 at 5:19 am | Permalink
  2. Hassan wrote:

    Well Senate unanimously and house close to unanimous helped Israel continue slaughter of indigenous people of land (Palestinians). So there is bipartisanship.

    Saturday, August 2, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    Gotta keep that campaign money flowing, even if it means a bunch of Palestinians die. 🙁

    Saturday, August 2, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink
  4. Ralph wrote:

    This would appear to be the end result of big money lobbying and crafty gerrymandering. Both parties have bought into this mess, which is essentially a strategy of divide and conquer by spreading fear and loathing for any opinion that is not your own.

    Not to mention citizen apathy. Voter turnout is pathetic, even in major elections, lower than any other industrial democracy, I think. Understandable, perhaps, when it seems all we do anymore is vote one bum out only to see another, bigger bum, take his/her place (the old bum becomes a lobbyist). The equivalent of changing a spark plug on a car with no transmission. It may sound good but you ain’t going anywhere.

    Saturday, August 2, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  5. Ralph wrote:

    The scandal at the VA is another case example of congressional duplicity. We send these poor guys and gals over to those hell hole meat grinders in Iraq and Afghanistan for 4 tours or more (on the national credit card, no less), only to return to an underfunded and overwhelmed VA, then blame Obama & Co. for mismanagement.

    We’re great at blowing shit up all over the world. It shouldn’t come as any surprise when that shit blows up in our own face here at home. And the chicken hawks in DC are only to eager to do it all again in Syria, Ukraine, etc. Like they say, when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Sigh.

    Saturday, August 2, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  6. Westomoon wrote:

    I came here to gripe about the false equivalency in the article’s quotes, and walked right into Ralph’s first comment.

    First, from everything I can see, the Dems now consist of everyone who fails the increasingly-stringent ideological purity tests of the very far right. So there really is no Dem orthodoxy to be doctrinaire about. And they are not doing that. Yes, they vote en bloc against the R flagship bills — the number of Obamacare repeals has passed 60, e.g. Aside from that sort of thing, the only things Dems have as an unbreakable rule is the traditionally mild Congressional version of reason and logic.

    So I do wish we would stop blaming our current dead-in-the-water legislative state on “Congress,” when the actual culprit is the hostage situation in the R party — the craziest, most ignorant, most extreme wing of that party is forcing the rest of the Rs to appease them, as we have just seen once more in the latest sad little dance in the House. In the Senate, of course, the situation is similar, though the way the rules empower a single Senator, much less the minority, make the process a lot less transparent.

    Saturday, August 2, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  7. Michael wrote:

    Ralph’s comment about the VA reminds me of the situation with the U.S. Postal Service. Everyone likes to talk about how the Obama administration has “bankrupted” the USPS and they blame him for things like post office closings. Except he had nothing to do with it. The source of the problem was the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, passed in December 2006 (when the GOP controlled the House, Senate, and White House). This law requires USPS to pre-fund all retirement benefits for the next 70 years. That’s right, the USPS is currently saving money to pay for the retirement of people who aren’t even born yet. Sigh…

    Westomoon, here’s a classic xkcd for you. And that’s even *before* the 2012 election. There are about the same number of “far right” members of the House as there are “right,” “center right,” and “center left,” combined. The “far right” accounts for approximately 37% of the House.

    Saturday, August 2, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  8. ebdoug wrote:

    Well, I think the Internet has a lot to do with USPS problems.

    Sunday, August 3, 2014 at 6:45 am | Permalink
  9. Jon wrote:

    Suggestion for passing legislation the House and Senate can agree upon: Make lists.

    That’s right… The Senate and House each make a list of the things included in the bills each house has already passed. Cross out the items on the lists that have nothing in common, reduce the dollar amounts of expenditures to the lowest amount common to both, reduce the amount (if any) of new revenue (taxation) necessary to achieve these goals also to the lowest amount common to both, readjust the level of spending to agree with the taxation approved to fund it, and pass whatever remains.

    IF anything remains.

    Monday, August 4, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  10. TomH wrote:

    When did win-win become a filthy word in Washington?

    When GOP the White establishment realized the country elected a black man….. twice.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink