The polarization of Congress has crippled the institution. The Democratic left has held their party hostage, with the result that a more moderate (marginally) Senate has been unable to move legislation. The result:
Unfinished work is piling up -- legislation to aid borrowers affected by the housing mess, rescue millions of middle-class families from a big tax increase and put stricter gas-mileage limits on the auto industry. Two months into the new fiscal year, Democrats are still scrambling just to keep the government open.This is important work (arguably) but the Democrats can't seem to get things in gear and actually force a showdown with the President.
But what bothers me is that most Americans are fed up with the situation and we are still going to be facing largely the same problem in 2009. Most of the current Congress will be re-elected and neither party has a vested interest in actually making sure they get legislative work done. Of course, part of the problem with the current Congress is that they are trying to out executive the President and they simply cannot do it. If Congress could settle down and do the things that Americans want addressed (see above), then they might actually make some progress. But most American's don't want to end the war, they don't want Congress to spend money like a teenage heiress on Rodeo Drive without a credit limi and they want Congress to address the problems of average Americans, not the problems Democrats have with President Bush.
Besty Newmark sums it up well, this is how Congress was DESIGNED to work:
So this story is nothing new except maybe to people who don't understand how the Congress works. The real story has been that the Republicans ability to hold together. In the Senate, 41 votes can block anything. And they have held together and supported President Bush despite Bush's low approval ratings.Good point.
Since this situation was predictable, the question also arises of Democrat overpromises. They should have known that they couldn't do all that they were promising to do. I wrote a column a year ago about what a sorry history our nation has of trying to run a war from Congress. But the Democrats acted as if they could rise above the rules of our political system because they had won the 2006 elections. And now they're reaping the reward of frustrated supporters who are angry that everything they were promised has not come to pass.
Please remember all this as you listen to all the presidential candidates talk about how they're going to bring about change in Washington. Without those 60 votes in the Senate, little is going to change. And gridlock will result. And both sides will end up sniping at each other and casting blame. And the media will complain about partisan bickering. The supposed "change agent" will be disappointed and will join in with the blame game while supporters will be angry . It will happen. Count on it.
Of course, a good politician in the White House will help, no matter which party holds Congress. Democrats have shown no willingness to work with the President on issues of concern to Americans, so why should the President who has been all but beseiged as incompetent, a fool, dangerous cowboy or all the above by Democrats, be the one to give in? The lack of civility from both camps has led to the deadlock on Capitol Hill. Believe it or not it is possible to hold opposing views and be civil to one another.
But this is how the Framers wanted the government to work, slowly and through consensus and competition.