As the US creeps ever closer to default with no clear end in sight questions are rightly being asked of Congress and indeed the party system itself.
Some have quite rightly criticised the parties with both Democrats and Republicans at odds and seemingly unwilling to work together as the system demands that they do. It has been noted that “From the Clinton years through the middle of George W. Bush’s second term, partisan division had been accompanied by a growing ideological gulf in Congress, and along with it had come a decline in institutional loyalty and other norms, the near disappearance of meaningful debate and deliberation”. He notes that all the major legislation passed since 2009, “were passed after contentious, drawn-out, partisan battles that left most Americans less than happy with the outcomes”.
Orstein says that the GOP “repeating a tactic employed with great political success by Republicans in 1993 and 1994 against a newly elected President Bill Clinton, they immediately united fiercely and unremittingly against all the Obama and Democratic congressional initiatives”.
He goes on to note that “in an unprecedented fashion, to block a large number of Obama administration nominees for executive branch positions and draw out debate to clog the legislative process and make an already messy business even messier. The session’s legislative accomplishments occurred because Democrats maintained enough discipline — and had large enough margins — to enact their bills with the support of Democrats alone”. This is the same as a parliamentary system with strictly enforced party whip system except institutionally it is still a congressional system. Orstein adds that “Mitch McConnell said in an October 2010 interview that ‘single most important thing’ he needed to achieve was making Obama a one-term president, as pure an expression of the permanent campaign as one could find”.
He goes on to describe the conservative Southern Dixiecrats and the country club Republicans of the liberal Northeast and how, things got done with compromise, more or lesss, the order of the day. He adds that “There is now no overlap ideologically at all between the parties. Only nine of the remaining small number of conservative House Democrats (now called “Blue Dogs”) were to the right of the most liberal House Republican. That Republican, Mike Castle of Delaware, was dumped by his party in a primary as he ran for the Senate and is now out of Congress, as are the bulk of the Blue Dogs”.
This does ignore that fact that the Democrats can be just as bad as shooting their own party in the foot. When Jack Lew was nominated for a second stint as OMB director in 2010, Mary Landrieu (D-LA) refused to let it be voted on due to her insistance that her own narrow concerns take precedence. She refused to let the primary official reponsible for the federal budget at a crucial time take up his role.
Others have noted “that real policy happens only in the two- or maybe four-year windows when White House and Congress are of the same political persuasion”. This is a result of the entire House being elected every two years. The result, Congressmen are more in line with their electorate, no matter how ill informed, than real policy debates in Washington.
Ideology is a good and necessary thing. Yet, as it currently stands “there is little chance that a suitable climate for compromise and bipartisanship will take hold anytime soon”. It is clear therefore, that the Founders system of checks and balances has outlived its usefulness. A powerful executive is needed to keep pace with the world of today.