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Sluggish Passage Of Laws In Congress

The passage of new legislation is so notoriously difficult, and very few bills survive from the countless introduced in the United States Congress; Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy describes the passage of law in relation to the mere complexity of Congress’ structure as anything short of “remarkable” (Lineberry, Robert L. , George C. Edwards III, and Martin P. Wattenberg).

The illustration in the right conveys the trend of senatorial paralysis as a lawmaking institution, with the “record-low 2. percent of bills introduced in that chamber” and the “lowest output” of public laws since “at least World War II” (Marziani, Mimi Murray Digby, Jonathan Backer, and Diana Kasdan). While the filibuster was attractive as the poisoned chalice in cause of congressional gridlock, a divided government seems to be the most stagnating political factor within my exploration of the factors in the passage of legislation. Filibuster_graph1. png However, the somewhat sluggish passage of law in the United States Congress is not an exact anachronism within the context of the Constitution; as Encyclop? ia Britannica describes, the bicameral system, or the House of Representatives vs Senate legislature in American political machine, is argued to hinder the passage of reckless legislation, limiting democracy and secure deliberation (Encyclop? dia Britannica).

This is maintained through the system of checks and balances formed through this bicameral system; Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy explains that “no bills can be passed unless both House and Senate agree on it”, with “each body” holding the ability of “veto[ing] the other” (Lineberry, Robert L. George C. Edwards III, and Martin P. Wattenberg). However, when party polarization becomes a trend in Congress, the passage of law becomes absurdly complex; while Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy described the mere passage of law as remarkable by the complexity of the ‘checks and balances’ within the Congress (Lineberry, Robert L. , George C. Edwards III, and Martin P.

Wattenberg), party polarization – the diminishment of differences among elected representatives within party and the expansion of differences between average members of each party – inevitably leads to a divided government, fractured by the inability to compromise beyond certain bills and the impossibility in dislodging certain members from ‘safe seats’ (Lineberry, Robert L. , George C. Edwards III, and Martin P. Wattenberg).

While “landmark laws are no less likely under divided government than under unified government” according to political scientist David Mayhew, political scientist Sarah Binder’s book Stalemate demonstrates that gridlock increases under divided government; the combination of divided government and extreme polarization cripples the passage of bills, with the House’s focus “on must-pass legislation to avoid government shutdowns and debt-ceiling breaches” (Buchler, Justin).

Moreover, veto override is now difficult to manage under a divided government as Dr. Stephen Schwalbe from in Homeland Security describes the Republican party’s antics as “legislative blackmail” and the Democratic party and President’s antics as refusing to accommodate and ensure the legacy that managed to be drafted into legislation (Schwalbe, Stephen).

Furthermore, Schwalbe describes the dramatic consequences of the presidential veto, the extreme effectiveness “at killing congressional legislation” (Schwalbe, Stephen); the checks and balances, particularly between the Congress and executive branch, requires a two-thirds vote in both national legislature if a proposed bill is vetoed by the President, “becoming the top congressional priority” and “setting aside all current legislation” (Schwalbe, Stephen).

In short, this delays the passage of legislation. The government’s roles have done their best in the face of this frightful trend, but certain functions and norms in Congress are in attack, for the better or worse.

For example, a supermajority – the tool now used as to delay legislation by the minority parties – are now in danger of being lowered or removed altogether in favor for a simple majority, a consequence from divided government (Ramsey, Ross); the Speaker of the House – the presiding officer of the House of Representatives – has currently left the House with reforms and decreased government spending, but with a divided government with party polarization, the Republican Party themselves are fractured and the government itself was found endangered by lack of funding, demonstrating the follies of a divided government (Cadei, Emily).

While earmarks would have aided in the passage of the law as a strategy to unite legislatures in a bill through self-interest, there has been a renewed ban on earmarks though the Congress has managed through loopholes or ignorance of law (Blumenthal, P).

Moreover, one can argue that the roles of party whips have had a productive role in the passage of law – the “simple head count”, the signal to the “whip team”, and finally the “final tally” (Beam, C); whipping itself is a “delicate business”, but serves as the “liaisons between the members and the party leadership”, aiding the majority leader and the “whipping up” of support, or opposition, to the bill on the basis of party consensus (Beam, C). Divided government begets partisanship, or so do they say.

Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy describes the increased legislative partisanship a consequence of “increased party competition, divided government, and majority party switching in state legislature”, demonstrating the further stagnating effect of divided government; divided government eventually develops other conflicts such as heightened legislative partisanship and filibuster abuse, making compromise – if not, the mere passage of law – “harder to come by” (Lineberry, Robert L. , George C. Edwards III, and Martin P. Wattenberg).

Ironically, the public who share the “the Congress dances but does not progress” mentality find themselves contradicting themselves, according to research; Institution for Policy Research political scientist Laurel Harbridge details that though “conventional wisdom and several national polls” suggest a disapproval for extremely uniteral partisanship, particularly “legislation that emphasizes partisan differences rather than bipartisan agreement”, she refutes the claim, demonstrating that people tend to prefer “partisan conflict” when the circumstances are a “legislative ‘win’ for their own party” (Harbridge, L. Galvin, D. , Druckman, J. , & Cook, F. L. ). PP-2014-06-12-polarization-0-01. png

Avoiding the issue of filibuster that I will later discuss, there’s a type of bill that avoids such strategy: the reconciliation bill. In Congress, reconciliation is a “controversial procedural device”, requiring a simple majority with the trade-off that the ‘bill’ must be only budget-related provisions (Lightman, David).

Moreover, the device is “hardly uncommon”, with a successful use of reconciliation only 19 times and vetoed three times; the reconciliation could be delayed with “quorum calls”, which means that “51 senators would have to be present for business to continue” (Lightman, David). However, reconciliation bills risk partisan dissatisfaction, if not disgust, as in essence, it is being jammed through in a ”viciously partisan manner” (Gregg, Judd).

Furthermore, reconciliation bills proposed in a party-line vote – substantial majority of members of a political party vote the same way – may be vetoed by the President and an override may fail (Gregg, Judd); in brief, reconciliation is not tremendous factor against the passage of law, especially when lacking bipartisan support, as when overplayed, the Wall Street Journal describes the strategy as a “game of Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded” (Gregg, Judd). reconciliation_Artboard-1. png

With a single doubt, filibuster, or filibuster abuse in general, is one of the most effective tools in making the passage of laws difficult, attributed to a dramatic decrease in Senate productivity (Bannon, Alicia). Government in American: People, Politics, and Policy describe the filibuster as a “strategy unique to the Senate whereby opponents of a piece of legislation try to talk it to death, based on the tradition of unlimited debate” (Government in American: People, Politics, and Policy); the filibuster is not absolute as the textbook goes on to convey.

As Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy explains, the motion for cloture can be used to halt a filibuster with “sixty members presenting and voting”, but the motion for cloture is reserved as “many senators are reluctant to vote for cloture for fearing of setting a precedent to be used against them when they want to filibuster” (Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy).

Moreover, since filibuster is unlikely to be prevented in the near future through legislation due to already difficulty in passing legislation on a controversial issue and the fear of being barred from a filibuster when in the minority, a filibuster remains a senator’s “powerful tool for defending their (or their constituents’) interests” (Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy).

However, though impact on Senate productivity has been significant, with Brennan Center analysis in 2011-2012 deeming Senate’s low record of “3. 96 percent of bills introduced in the chamber”, “the percentage of Senate floor activity devoted to cloture has been more than 50 percent higher than any other time since at least World War II” (Bannon, Alicia).

Furthermore, the filibuster is now weaker with the Senate Democrats’ push for reform in chamber rules in 2013, “doing away with filibusters on executive appointments and most judicial nominations in a bid to ease the gridlock gripping the chamber” (Altman, Alex), and with the tables turned on the Republicans on the issues of Syrian refugees and climate change legislation, “potential filibuster changes” can be expected from few Republicans (Basseti, Victoria).

Nevertheless, the filibuster is resistant, if not hostile, against logrolling as the filibuster “raises the hurdle for logrolling” through “the support of 60” requirement, which “usually requires some bipartisanship” (Calomiris, Charles W). Filibuster_graph2. png In brief, the factor of divided government proves to be the most effective in slowing down the passage of laws, begetting different problems from increasing party polarization to extreme partisanship.

Moreover, if anything, divided government seems the least out of reach as it would ironically involve bipartisan support and the compromise between the two escalating party to place their views beside them, and pass legislation that will benefit the people as a whole – not simply appealing to their Democratic or Republican constituents.

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