Voters: Fire our partisan, failed Congress
Whoever wins the presidency, his ability to address our country’s daunting problems depends on a functioning Congress. And by multiple measures, our current Congress is one of the most partisan, deadlocked and unpopular in American history.
A surge in state legislatures’ politically-driven redrawing of congressional districts has created a Congress that is more partisan than the American electorate, according to a study by the non-partisan Center for Voting and Democracy. And I believe that the dominance of blatantly partisan news coverage – led by Fox and MSNBC – has poisoned the broader dynamics that affect the U.S. Senate.
Moderate senators are vanishing from the American political landscape, according to the Washington-based National Journal magazine. In 1982, there were 60 seats for moderate senators. In 1994, the number shrunk to 36. In 2002, there were nine. And in the current Senate, zero.
Unless moderate voters begin supporting candidates – particularly Senators – who cross party lines, our national deadlock will continue. Senate rules should be amended to end the destructive power of filibusters. Politicians who ease the bitter tenor of our debate should be rewarded. America’s political culture is dominated by a self-reinforcing, partisan-media fueled bubble, where viewers hear only denigration of the other side.
On balance, I believe the extreme positions of Tea Party-backed conservatives are the core source of the problem. But Democrats have also played partisan games as well, particularly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Moderate Republicans must regain control of their party. They can do that only if moderate Democrats support them. Instead of indiscriminately dismissing all Republicans, moderate Democrats should respectfully consider mainstream Republicans arguments, and recognize the challenge moderate Republicans face inside their party.
Before casting your vote in House and Senate races tomorrow, check this constructive analysis of legislators’ partisanship 2011 compiled by National Journal. Here are our most centrist Senators and members of Congress. And here are our biggest liberals and conservatives.
Obviously, multiple factors determine any voter’s decisions, from a candidate’s policy proposals, to their philosophy to their background. But an ability to work with members of the other party is more vital than ever in Washington.
The problem goes beyond this Congress’ historically-low number of laws passed, as noted by The Washington Post. It is that Congress’ growing weakness is leading to an alarming rise in the power of the President and the Supreme Court.
In a sweeping indictment last week, Bloomberg View correctly warned of the long term dangers a weak national legislature creates.
“As polarization and legislative gridlock have worsened in recent years, the nation’s great legislative body has withered, losing not only popular support but the ability to exercise its constitutional powers,” it noted. “The result has been a troubling expansion of executive and judicial power.”
Whether you cast your ballot for Romney or Obama tomorrow, voters should consider if they want a country that is increasingly ruled by executive and judicial fiat. We need a healthier legislature and a stronger national debate.
From drone strikes to health care to vital environmental and election regulation, the executive and judicial branches are taking matters into their own hands and skirting congressional oversight. And the economic costs – primarily in the budget deadlock that sparked a downgrading of the U.S. government’s credit rating this summer – will only continue.
Over the past few months, I have written a series of columns examining each presidential candidate’s promises to the middle class and analyzing the best approaches to jobs, housing and immigration, three areas where legislative action is urgently need. Again, individual candidates vary but the best House or Senate representatives may be the ones that can break partisan deadlock on these issues, not fuel it.
The time to send a message to congressional partisans is tomorrow. There is a nascent movement for non-partisan commissions to take over the drawing of congressional districts, but it has gained little headway. The most powerful way to ease our partisanship is at the ballot box, particularly in U.S. Senate races.
The bottom line is that the United States needs an effective and efficient federal government. That’s a concept that I believe the vast majority of Americans from both parties support.
PHOTO: The dome of the Capitol is reflected in a puddle in Washington February 17, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque