Mann and Ornstein on political gridlock

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The high priests of Beltway "centrism," political scientists Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, wrote an op-ed in April 2012 titled Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

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.

A year later, the high priests of Beltway "centrism" are back with a new op-ed, Gridlock is no way to govern:

Larry Summers is a brilliant, award-winning economist. Monday, in his
monthly op-ed column for The Post, he opined about politics and history
[“Sometimes, gridlock is good for America,” April 15]. Our advice, as political scientists, is that Summers should stick to economics.

We were left wondering what political system Summers has been living in the past several years. This level of partisan polarization, veering from ideological differences into tribalism, has not been seen in more than a century.
The U.S. system has always moved slowly, but in times past major
advances were achieved with some level of cooperation or restraint, if
not consensus, between the parties. No more.

he progress on energy and the shift in public opinion on same-sex
marriage have occurred with little or no relationship to Washington’s
political pathologies. The policy triumphs that Summers trumpeted —
stabilization and economic stimulus, health reform, financial regulation
— were all achieved in the first two years of the Obama administration
over the united, vociferous opposition of Republicans in Congress. The
stimulus package passed in early 2009 was a major step to avert
depression but was watered down and diverted into unproductive uses
because of House Republicans’ strategic unwillingness to cooperate and
the need to accommodate senators of both parties to get the 60 votes
necessary to overcome a filibuster — one of countless episodes in the
past five years when the filibuster has been used in unprecedented ways.

The Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank reforms were enacted despite
GOP obduracy and promiscuous use of the filibuster, in part because
Democrats for a short time had 60 votes in the Senate and kept their
members together. But the quality of both laws was diminished by the
unwillingness of members of the minority to vote for the final product
on the floor after many concessions they requested had been agreed to
during committee markups. More important, passing laws in this fashion
left nearly half the polity viewing the legislation as illegitimate.
Efforts followed to demonize and hamstring the laws as they moved toward
implementation — including the unprecedented blockage for years of
highly qualified nominees to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

It is true that politicians of both parties came together in the fall
of 2008 to save the financial system and economy from utter disaster —
but only after House Republicans blocked the initial bailout plan and
were chastened by a sharp drop in the stock market. That was followed in
2011 by congressional Republicans’ reprehensible use of the federal
debt limit as a hostage, resulting in the first-ever downgrade in the United States’ credit rating.
We are not confident that the result would be the same if there were an
equally urgent need for action today to save the global economy
.

To
be sure, the United States has done better than Europe. But years after
the initial crisis, and in significant part because of the shortcomings
of our political system, we are still sputtering, having missed
multiple opportunities to emerge from the financial crisis in a far
better way.

Finally, Summers’s idea that climate change and inequality are issues
not of gridlock but of vision forgets the fact that serious debates
about policy avenues in these areas are impossible if half the political
arena believes that climate change is a hoax, and if one political
party is animated by the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge and the Mitt
Romney vision of a nation of 53 percent makers and 47 percent takers.

* * *

The universe of problem-solvers in the Senate has increased since the
2012 elections. But the broader pathologies in our politics remain. For
all the problems that existed in previous decades, in a system designed
not to act with dispatch, there was a strong political center, with
responsible bipartisan leadership. The same cannot be said today.

Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise
Institute. Thomas E. Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings
Institution. They are co-authors of “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.”

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