The metaphor we tend to use for congressional dysfunction is “gridlock.” When you have gridlock, nothing moves. But that’s not quite what we’ve seen. When Congress grinds to a halt, other governmental actors step into the breach. This isn’t a particularly good alternative: For one thing, these other actors don’t have the powers of Congress, and so they need to use roundabout, inefficient ways of achieving their goals. For another, these actors are less accountable than Congress.
But it’s important to realize that this wouldn’t happen if Congress didn’t want it to: Just as Congress could act to write a climate bill, it could also act to stop the EPA from regulating carbon. But when gridlock is driven by minority obstruction, you often have a majority that would like to see some effort made to address these problems, and if they can’t do it themselves, they’re willing to stand back and let other parts of the government do it. This is just one more reason why the increasing level of congressional dysfunction should worry those on both the left and the right: It’s leading government to work in ways the Founders never intended, and that frankly doesn’t make very much sense.
This is what Dina Titus was trying to explain to The R-J yesterday. While it is disturbing that the executive branch has had to claim more authority and take more unilateral action, what are they supposed to do when Congress won't do anything? As Ezra Klein has explained, this Congress has actually threatened economic recovery with its epic obstruction and gridlock!
And yes, there's a clear source for this trouble. Even Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, two of the nation's preeminent experts on Congress and federal policy making, broke their silence earlier this year and flatly stated why Congress is increasingly looking like a failed institution.
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate —think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel —are virtually extinct.
This is the problem. Because the GOP has devolved into the G-O-TEA, it's become incredibly difficult for anything to be accomplished. Remember, this is why we came perilously close to defaulting on our debt! And this is why Congress keeps wasting time on stupid shit like repealing the Affordable Care Act. And this is why Congress can not even agree on common sense measures like renewing the Violence Against Women Act!
This is NOT how our government is supposed to work. Even when we've seen divided government in the not too distant past, it was never this dysfunctional. Because the likes of Nevada's own Joe Heck and Mark Amodei would rather cave into "tea party" extremists than work with Harry Reid and others to do such basic things as pass a budget on time and take care of the debt ceiling, our federal government is approaching a dangerous level of gridlock... And it's prompted President Obama to exert more executive authority just to keep the federal government functioning.
This is not how it's supposed to work... And it increasingly looks like there's a "TEA" fueled faction on Capitol Hill that likes it this way.