IDEOLOGY, OBSTRUCTIONISM, AND MAKING GOVERNMENT WORK

ABSTRACT: Democrats believe in making government work. Republicans, at least many current ones, don’t exhibit a commitment to making government work. They block legislation and an unprecedented number and breadth of Presidential appointments, including judges and cabinet secretaries.

Rigid ideology and extreme partisanship are drivers of the gridlock: many Republicans seem willing to use any means available to block Obama’s initiatives, anything that would appear to be a success for him, and his administration’s efforts to govern effectively. Senate Republicans filibuster, while Republicans in the House have developed a strategy of policy hostage taking. While there are isolated examples of Democrats using some of the Republicans’ tactics, the current obstructionism by Republicans is unprecedented in both its breadth and its frequency.

Some of the Republicans, particularly those that identify with the Tea Party, are doing everything they can to sabotage government and keep it from operating effectively. Then when it falls short, they shout “See, we told you government can’t do anything right!”

Examples of Republicans impeding the functioning of Congress include: 1) in the budget process, they refused to appoint members for the conference committee that resolves differences between the House and Senate bills; 2) filibustered legislation to reduce gun violence; 3) blocked the ratification of an international treaty despite widespread, bipartisan support; and 4) blocked progress by filibustering or threatening to filibuster over 400 times since 2006.

The public’s well-being and future generations are hurt when our legislative branch doesn’t function.

FULL POST: Democrats’ ideology is that government has an important and positive role to play in our society. Republicans’ ideology is that a minimal government role is best and that government is more often a negative than a positive factor. But it goes a step further. Democrats believe in making government work, in doing the best that can be done to foster a civil and just society, despite limitations and challenges. They believe in implementing existing laws and making existing agencies work to fulfill their missions. Republicans, at least many current ones, don’t exhibit a commitment to making government work. As a consequence, they block legislation, including essential legislation, even when there is a majority in favor of it, through tactics such as filibustering in the Senate (see posts of 6/15/12 and 6/10/12) or refusing to move legislation forward in the House. [1] Senate Republicans have also used the filibuster to block an unprecedented number and breadth of Presidential appointments, including judges, cabinet secretaries, and other positions in government agencies. (See 5/20/12 post.)

In addition to rigid ideology, extreme partisanship is also a driver of the gridlock: many Republicans are of the mindset that if President Obama is for something, they will be against it – even in cases where they had previously supported the position or issue. And they seem willing to use any means available to block Obama’s initiatives, anything that would appear to be a success for him, and his administration’s efforts to govern effectively. While the Senate Republicans filibuster, Republicans in the House, led by Eric Cantor (VA), Paul Ryan (WI), and Kevin McCarthy (CA), have developed a strategy of policy hostage taking. Their most notable effort was their refusal to raise the US government’s debt ceiling, which was needed to fund the activities previously approved by Congress and the president under the country’s budget. They took hostage the full faith and credit of the US Government to pay its debts. As Thomas Mann said, “It’s hard to imagine a more destructive action.” [2] In the House, the extreme partisanship of the Republican majority means that the Democratic minority is all but ignored. [3]

While there are isolated examples of Democrats using some of these tactics, the current obstructionism by Republicans is unprecedented in both its breadth and its frequency.

Some of the Republicans, particularly those that identify with the Tea Party, do not feel a responsibility to abide by the historical rules of operation or to work to promote the successful functioning of government. A recent survey documented that Tea Party activists do not want their elected representative to compromise and are happy to have them prevent government from functioning. [4] Furthermore, some of these activists and elected officials promote their ideology by doing everything they can to sabotage government and keep it from operating effectively. Then when it falls short, they shout “See, we told you government can’t do anything right!” [5]

Examples of Republicans impeding the functioning of Congress include the following:

This spring, both houses of Congress passed budget bills. The process calls for a conference committee of both chambers to be appointed to reconcile differences between the two bills. However, the House Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, chair of the Budget Committee, refused to appoint members for the conference committee – an unprecedented act of obstructionism. After a month of negotiations, Democrats gave up on the effort to form a conference committee, so the government continues to run without a normal budget in place. [6]

Senate Republicans have filibustered * legislation to reduce gun violence by expanding background checks for gun purchases. (See 4/20/13 and 5/9/13 posts.) Senate Republicans also blocked the ratification of an international treaty on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, despite widespread, bipartisan support, ratification by 126 other countries, and the fact that it was modeled on the American with Disabilities Act. (See post of 12/8/12.)

Senate Republicans have blocked progress by filibustering or threatening to filibuster over 400 times since they lost the majority in 2006; that’s over once a week on average. As two, bi-partisan political scientist have written, Senate Republicans are using the filibuster “to delay and obstruct quietly on nearly all matters, including routine and widely supported ones.” They have filibustered judges, top administration officials, and a wide range of legislation. [7]

The US has serious problems, short and long-term, including unemployment, stagnant wages, and global competition, that need to be addressed through legislation. The public’s well-being and future generations are hurt when our legislative branch doesn’t function because Republicans are committed to a rigid ideology, refuse to compromise, and believe that scoring political points is more important than solving problems. [8]

My next post will review the impacts of Republican obstructionism on the judicial and executive branches of government.


[1]       Starr, P., May / June 2013, “Bad faith and budget politics,” The American Prospect

[2]       Ornstein, N., & Mann, T., 4/26/13, “Why Congress is failing us,” on Bill Moyers’ public TV show, available at BillMoyers.com

[3]       Arenberg, R.A., 6/13/12, “An effective Senate needs filibusters,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Rapoport, A., May / June 2013, “Ted [Cruz] talk,” The American Prospect

[5]       Editorial, 5/24/13, “Scandal, Sequestered,” Ringside Seat, The American Prospect

[6]       Bouie, J., & Caldwell, P., May / June 2013, “Patty Murray in 19 takes,” The American Prospect

*       A filibuster occurs when one or more Senators refuse to end debate on a piece of legislation or other matter. It requires a super-majority of 60 out of 100 votes to close off debate (cloture) and allow a vote on the bill or other matter.

[7]       Mann, T.E., and Ornstein, N.J., 4/27/12, “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem,” The Washington Post. Adapted from their book “It’s even worse than it looks: How the American Constitutional system collided with the new politics of extremism.”

[8]       Ornstein, N., & Mann, T., 4/26/13, see above

2 comments

  1. harry simmons · · Reply

    Thanx again– The abstracts make good rebuttals when ‘my’ republicans send me stuff and you have covered many subjects apro pro. Pura Vida – Harry

    1. Harry,

      Glad they’re useful! If there are topics I haven’t covered that you’d like info on, let me know. I’ll see if I can shed any light on them.

      John

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