Tag Archives: Norman J. Ornstein

Is this the ‘worst Congress ever’?

The Week

The acrimonious debate over raising the debt ceiling has shined a spotlight on partisan rancor in Washington. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, who wrote a 2006 book saying Congress was “broken,” now says at Foreign Policy that hardliners in both parties have gained such “inordinate power” that compromise, even on crucial matters such as keeping the government from defaulting on its debt for the first time ever, is essentially dead. Even back in 1969, when the country was deeply divided over the Vietnam War, Capitol Hill was “considerably less dysfunctional” than it is now. Is this really the “worst Congress ever”?

Yes. And it won’t get better anytime soon: It’s hard to argue that the 112th Congress isn’t “the worst one ever,” says The Economist. It’s even more depressing when you realize that this is not a temporary shift due to transient factors, such as the rise of the Tea Party, but “the culmination of a long period of realignment in American politics” that has left the parties polarized. Things are likely to get even worse in 2012, as redistricting and acrimonious primaries pick off more moderates, one by one.
“Worst Congress ever?”

Congress is only as bad as GOP obstructionists make it: The debt-ceiling showdown has “laid bare the degree to which our political system has become dangerously dysfunctional,” says John Farmer at the NewarkStar-Ledger. The nation’s Founders divided power among the different branches of government to serve their ideal of checks and balances. “But for that to work, compromise is a must, not something malevolent,” as a growing bloc of my-way-or-the-highway Republicans now seem to view it.
“Debt ceiling struggle exposing dysfunction in the U.S. political system”

Blame the self-serving motivations of both parties: Republicans are afraid Tea Partiers will stay home in 2012 unless they cut spending at all costs, says Charlie Cook at The Atlantic. Democrats made the same mistake in 2009 and 2010, when they “obsessed about their base and ignored independent and swing voters.” Both sides would do well to remember that independents often tip elections, and they hate all this “sophomoric, partisan towel-snapping” — they just want Washington to function.
“Memo to the GOP: Focus on independents”

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The do-something Congress

In the past two years, the Democratic controlled 111th Congress has been one of the most productive in decades

MSNBC – First Read

With an approval rating in the teens, Congress right now is about as popular as Julian Assange at the State Department’s Christmas Party — or Sarah Palin at The Nation’s editorial meeting, or President Obama at a Federalist Society convention.

And, politically, the Democratic-controlled Congress took a beating from voters in November, as Republicans won back control of the House and picked up seats in the Senate.

But lost in the poll numbers and the voters’ message in November is this one unmistakable fact: This Congress, which likely will come to a close this week, accomplished more, legislatively, than any other Congress since the 1960s (the Great Society) or the 1930s (the New Deal).

In the past two years, it has:
– expanded the safety net with the health-care law;

– invested billions in the nation’s roadways, airports, schools, and green technologies with the stimulus;

– reformed the nation’s financial system with financial reform;

– passed billions in tax cuts for Americans with the stimulus and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts

– expanded civil rights with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

And in its final piece of business, the Senate is currently working on one of the White House’s top foreign-policy goals: ratification of the New START treaty with Russia. Then throw in all of the other legislation enacted this Congress, like credit-card reform and the Lilly Ledbetter anti-pay-discrimination act.

“I would probably rank the New Deal [Congress] first,” congressional scholar Norm Ornstein told First Read. “I think this one edges the Great Society. It is at least on par with the Great Society.”

“For all the dysfunction, it was just astonishing what they were able to get done,” Ornstein added.

Many can take credit for these accomplishments. President Obama (who spent his political capital on these legislative items, especially health care). Democratic leaders (who had to placate everyone in their party from Bernie Sanders on the left to Ben Nelson on the right).

Democratic members of Congress (many of whom cast tough votes). And, at least on the tax-cut deal, congressional Republicans (who bucked growing conservative resistance to the legislation).

What’s more, these accomplishments will likely have staying power. While Republicans campaigned, at least in part, on rolling back the agenda passed these past two years, they won’t find doing so easy as long as Democrats remain in the majority in the Senate and the president wields veto power. (However, it appears that the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final say about whether one of the key components of the health-care law is constitutional.)

Of course, the Democratic-controlled Congress biggest failure was losing 63 House seats — the most since the 1940s — and control of that chamber, as well as losing six Senate seats.

Yet as we — and others — have pointed out before, political power in Congress comes and goes. What truly matters is what you do with it when you have it.

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Filed under Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Politics