Why has gridlock gotten worse lately?

Anonymous asked this question on 5/12/2000:

Why has the government experienced so much gridlock in recent years? To what extent does the
voters' addition of another check and balance by giving the Congress to one party and the White
House to another contribute to the problem? Can the problem of gridlock be resolved?

JesseGordon gave this response on 5/12/2000:

I'll expand on the answer from my colleague by saying that I LIKE gridlock (this is a libertarian perspective).

Gridlock means that the federal government does LESS, and that is better for the people. When Congress is in session, they pass laws that spend our money or limit our rights. The less money they spend, the better; the fewer laws they pass, the better. Hence, if Congress is not in session at all, we all benefit. I enjoyed immensely the "shutdown" of the government a couple years back -- ok, I felt sorry for the pensioners who didn't get their checks, but it was a glorious week where no new laws were passed, and no new money was spent!

Yes, of course, having one party in the White House and another in the majority of Congress causes more gridlock. That's to the good too! We currently have what I consider the best situation -- a Democrat president and a Republican Congress. Democrats are better as presidents because presidents create moral rules via the bully pulpit, and Democrats create fewer moral rules. Republicans are better in Congress because Congress passes spending laws, and Republicans spend less.

The second best arrangement is a Republican president and a Democrat Congress. The gridlock limitations still apply, but the wrong priorities are in place (i.e., a GOP president will set some new morality in place, and we'll end up with a few more laws that limit our personal freedom. And a Democrat Congress will get some new spending past the president, and we'll all lose some money).

The worst arrangement is when any one party rules both the presidency and the Congress. Then things "get done", which means new laws get passed, and the people lose.

Yes, a said, the Founding Fathers also LIKED gridlock. That's what "checks and balances" are all about. They knew that government was dangerous, and should be limited at all costs. The cost they focused on was efficiency. They intentionally made the government inefficient -- it's hard to pass laws, and hard to get anything done. That's what they wanted, and that's to the good of the people.

Now to get to your actual questions, I haven't noticed that there has been any more gridlock in recent years than in the past. I'd say by far the leading factor, as you point out, is the White House-Congress split. I think you probably notice it more now because you're looking at it from today's perspective and today's newspapers, where gridlock is exposed regularly. When you think of previous decades, you think only of the programs which passed, not the gridlock on those that stopped. That's a natural perspective; I'm not sure that much has changed recently.

How to resolve gridlock? Well, as you can see from my response above, I don't think we should! But if somehow we wanted to, the way to do it would be to have one party in power in both the executive and legislative branches. And then have them agree on a policy agenda. Then it would pass quickly. That's basically what happened in FDR's "New Deal" -- a strong president with a clear agenda and a Congress that agreed with him; and we got a huge number of new laws and new spending programs, all very quickly (they called it "the 100 days").

A clear agenda and internal agreement can also be enough on its own -- witness Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America. It didn't all get passed, because Clinton was of the opposing party, but a lot of it did -- little gridlock there.

Anonymous asked this question on 5/12/2000:

Why has the government experienced so much gridlock in recent years? To what extent does the
voters' addition of another check and balance by giving the Congress to one party and the White
House to another contribute to the problem? Can the problem of gridlock be resolved?

budgetanalyst gave this response on 5/15/2000:

An addition contribution, if I may: In addition to the structural matters, which are related to the basic intent of the founders to limit government and fully elaborated by the prior respondents, we should consider the social changes related to the Congress itself. Congress is creating much road kill, and this is a social problem.

A system originally intend to result in decisions after deliberation was based on the assumption that there would be personal discussions among representatives. This had to be based on personal interaction, which was assumed as given (there was no other option) when the deliberative bodies (Senate and House) would meet - there was nothing else to do but to discuss the issues round the clock, in session or out of session!

No TV, no radio, no airplanes - no jet airplanes! No place to go but be stuck in new York or Washington, talk to your fellow representatives of the people, and try to be civil to each other since you would have to deal with them for at least a few weeks if not months, day after day after day. With enough days at this, eventually you get to know the other idiot, and you may grant him, grudgingly, some IQ level above single digits.

Not today. You throw your bomb, get on the limo or BMW, get to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in ten minutes, park at the VIP lot, and get out of town in less than an hour after your wonderful bombing raid! Be back home before it gets dark Thursday evening. Reverse the cycle Tuesday morning, you pretend that the ones you bombed the preceding Thursday are morons, and start throwing bombs before sunset on Tuesday. Easy to do with jet airplanes. You don't really have to know the other person.

There is no longer a social system in place, and Congress is no different from the crazed drivers on the Beltway (I-95 and I-495) who think of the other driver as nothing more than potential road kill, simply waiting to be actualized as such by them. In fact, they think that they have a mission for actualizing the road kill! You cannot have a society on this basis, and Congress reflects the same problem. Hence gridlock.

Sweet16AE asked this question on 12/4/2000:

Is America better off when one party controls the presidency and both houses of congress?

JesseGordon gave this response on 12/5/2000:

I think the country is MUCH better off when the presidency and Congress are run by opposing parties.

My politics is liberal-leaning libertarian. I like the presidency to be in Democrat's hands because the presidency is where the moral outlook of the country comes from, and I much more agree with Democrat morality than Republican.

I like the Congress to be in Republican hands because the Congress is where spending comes from, and Republicans spend less.

But mostly, I like when they're opposite because then LESS gets done, and in general when it comes to government, less is better.

So the best situation is:
Democratic president, Republican Congress
(I've been happy with Clinton and the GOP Congress for 6 years now).

The second best is:
Republican President, Democrat Congress
(I'll likely be happy in 2002, assuming Bush wins, because Congress will go Democrat, as often happens in mid-term elections when Congress is closely divided).

The third best is:
Democratic president, Democrat Congress
(This is a distant third, but I rank moral issues more importantly than economic issues, so I'd rather lose a little money to Democrat tax schemes, while maintaining my civil rights and good national moral outlook under a Democratic president).

The worst is:
Republican president, Republican Congress
(Looks like I'm stuck with this for at least 2 years; but a split Senate will help. I LIKE "deadlock"!).

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