Voters: Fire our partisan, failed Congress

November 5, 2012

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


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Fox’s straight news programs are not “blatantly partisan.” Their opinion shows are, of course. Fox does not claim otherwise.

MSNBC is blatantly partisan 24-7.

Let’s be accurate, Rohde.

Posted by MDickson | Report as abusive

Fox’s “straight” news is blatantly partisan; they just dress it up a little nicer. You couldn’t possibly find a non-partisan group that would claim otherwise and even Fox doesn’t try that hard to hide it. MSNBC is just less popular, has less talent and is trying to champion an agenda that is less cohesive and not as easy to build simple narratives around.

Both networks are directly harming the country. I don’t know if they are the cause or symptom, but it’s cancerous none the less.

Posted by spall78 | Report as abusive

As a non-American looking from the outside in – America’s politics seems self destructive. There is effectively a deadlock and both sides fight tooth and nail to have it all their way with no comprimise. There seems to be a need for more political parties than two – but somehow this can’t seem to get off the ground. Looking back over your past four years I really think many of Obama’s failures (perceived of real, you decide) relate not to the man, but to the fact he was simply pushing the Democratic agenda rather than the American one (which should not be confused with the GOP one either). I suspect if he could have run and voted in as an independant he would have been a better president. The above being said I live in a country dominated by one political party, and the waste and corruption that ensues makes your politicians look like saints.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

> “Senate rules should be amended to end the destructive power of filibusters.”

— I remember seeing a PBS documentary online about the history of the American congress, which featured a cameo from an interview with Senator Byrd in which he praised the American system of government for letting its senators talk however much as they wanted. I felt sick just listening to that, before I even knew how he had used his filibusters.

Even the British system, with its raucous aye-ing and nay-ing, is better than that. Over here, our government allocates specific amounts of time for discussing specific issues. The parliamentary speaker & chief whips then apportion the allocated time according to seniority, but with everyone having an opportunity to speak if they wish, and if they follow the correct procedures. If more time is needed to discuss an issue that proves more troublesome than anticipated, this can be decided by a quick vote by those participating in the discussion. I think the British system is eminently reasonable, in most respects.

Congress has been ineffectual during the last four years — it’s been a hall of partisan finger-pointing instead of a hall of wisdom, careful listening and consensus-building. They all appear to have realized that it would be hard and politically expensive to ACTUALLY FIX the real underlying problems, which are huge but still manageable. So they all look for ways to excuse themselves using the “intransigence” of the other side. As a result, the doctors keep telling the gunshot-wounded patient that he will be okay, and putting a band-aid over the wound — we’ve staunched the appearance of bleeding for now, so we must be getting better…

If there was in REALITY, half the adversarial relationship between Congress and the White House that Obama claims there has been, then why has Obama used the presidential veto LEAST of any post-civil-war president excepting only James Garfield? Someone is lying to the American public… ted_States_presidential_vetoes

I think the American voting public is being lied-to by the incumbents of both Congress AND the White House. I don’t think there has been any good faith in either side, on reaching meaningful deals to solve America’s problems. EVEN BEFORE the “super committee” sat, I thought I saw a little gleam in Obama’s eye, a little smirk on his cheek, as though he already knew that the “super committee” would fail and punt the real issues into the political long grass, just after the next presidential election (giving him an excuse for figures that would inevitably be seen as economic failure, if only the truth was told; and an excuse to carry on writing hot checks until reelected based on a sham recovery): -Indicators-graphs-1950-2011-wide.png

There are still some signs of life in the patient. We had better do what is necessary to save him… That means we cannot save the political skins of those in Congress or the White House. I say we should watch them with hawk eyes and fire every one of them that will not work effectively with the other side…

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

…I think President Obama has totally failed to knock congressional heads together, which I understand is his job in this situation, along with the various majority and minority leaders.
The Tea Party contingent of the Republican Party has been unreasonably obstructive, but if Barack Obama had been Bill Clinton II, he would have EMBARRASSED them them into action by now.
Obama had better get a clue or get replaced! I don’t particularly care which way it goes or which color of party “wins”, but for the sake of the American people, we need stronger, more serious and more principled federal government; and to get that, the government needs stronger, more serious executives and officers.

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

The only way to “fix” congress is to impose term limits on them. Nothing else will ever work. Only temporary Band-Aids to appease the public whilst the power bases of the parties continue unhindered.
Congress will never allow term limits and will do everything possible to stop it. So it must be a public referendum. Also as a referendum we must enact campaign finance reform. We these two things in place we have a chance at things righting themselves in a few election cycles. Without them, no decent, honest person will ever run for one of the 535 seats of power.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

I agree in principal but see no path by which this is likely to come about until absolutely and fiscally unavoidable.

The present composition and “leadership” of the two major parties each understand that the “safe” move is to keep pointing the finger at their opposition for continuing to not do their job. Look around! Who’s going to change THAT?


“I think the American voting public is being lied-to by the incumbents of both Congress AND the White House. I don’t think there has been any good faith in either side, on reaching meaningful deals to solve America’s problems. ”

You and I aren’t usually “singing out of the same song book”, but with this comment we are. I agree completely.

What does it say about the U.S. when the only people demonstrating effective action to constrain the perpetual increase of the debt ceiling is the Tea Party newbies in the House? Unfortunately, their “merit” seems more and more to suggest they are a “one trick pony” when it comes to solving the increasing problems of achieving a government efficient enough and intelligent enough to separate needs from wants and pay for them with available revenue.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

David, I wish the American Sheeple could think past their political party religion and party worship (as a god), but sadly that is not the case and never will be.
Congress is a job for life (a very well paying job counting bribe money) in almost all cases, no matter what that person does with regard to trying to destroy the USA. They all know they will be voted in again because they are a Democrat or Republican in a district that is mostly one or the other, so they run wild in Congress like escaped bank robbers in bank full of money and no people except them.

Posted by americanguy | Report as abusive

I just voted for my incumbent Republican congressman again today. If he compromised his conservative values by voting for liberal legislation I would want to fire him but he doesn’t. Instead of firing my congressman I opted to fire our President. If the country doesn’t get rid of Obama then at least I’ll be somewhat comforted knowing that my congressman will vote to block liberal legislation from reaching Obama’s desk. Conservative Democrats are OK, it’s the “progressive” Democrats that are dangerous to America.

Posted by Gabowski | Report as abusive

@americanguy: one answer to the “safe seats” problem is AV (instant run-off voting) or STV (single transferable vote). The latter (STV) is by far the best voting system, and the former (AV) is the second best, in my opinion. Some states already use systems based on one or the other of these protocols.

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

Maybe we will actually pass a budget sometime in the next 4 years?

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive