Is Congress Broken?: The Virtues and Defects of Partisanship and Gridlock

Brookings Institution Press
Free sample

Making Congress Work, Again, Within the Constitutional System

Congress for many years has ranked low in public esteem—joining journalists, bankers, and union leaders at the bottom of polls. And in recent years there's been good reason for the public disregard, with the rise of hyper-partisanship and the increasing inability of Congress to carry out its required duties, such as passing spending bills on time and conducting responsible oversight of the executive branch.

Congress seems so dysfunctional that many observers have all but thrown up their hands in despair, suggesting that an apparently broken U.S. political system might need to be replaced.

Now, some of the country's foremost experts on Congress are reminding us that tough hyper-partisan conflict always has been a hallmark of the constitutional system. Going back to the nation's early decades, Congress has experienced periods of division and turmoil. But even in those periods Congress has been able to engage in serious deliberation, prevent ill-considered proposals from becoming law—and, over time, help develop a deeper, more lasting national consensus.

The ten chapters in this volume focus on how Congress in the twenty-first century can once again fulfill its proper functions of representation, deliberation, legislation, and oversight. The authors offer a series of practical reforms that would maintain, rather than replace, the constitutional separation of powers that has served the nation well for more than 200 years.

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About the author

William F. Connelly, Jr., is the John K. Boardman Politics Professor at Washington and Lee University. He is also founder and director of the university’s Washington Term Program.

John J. Pitney, Jr., is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College. He previously served on the staff of Senator Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY) and the House Republican Policy Committee.

Gary J. Schmitt is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he directs the Program on American Citizenship. He previously served as the Democratic staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and executive director of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Mar 21, 2017
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780815730378
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / Legislative Branch
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
Political Science / Political Process / General
Political Science / Public Affairs & Administration
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Since the Second World War, congressional parties have been characterized as declining in strength and influence. Research has generally attributed this decline to policy conflicts within parties, to growing electoral independence of members, and to the impact of the congressional reforms of the 1970s. Yet the 1980s witnessed a strong resurgence of parties and party leadership—especially in the House of Representatives.

Offering a concise and compelling explanation of the causes of this resurgence, David W. Rohde argues that a realignment of electoral forces led to a reduction of sectional divisions within the parties—particularly between the northern and southern Democrats—and to increased divergence between the parties on many important issues. He challenges previous findings by asserting that congressional reform contributed to, rather than restrained, the increase of partisanship. Among the Democrats, reforms siphoned power away from conservative and autocratic committee chairs and put control of those committees in the hands of Democratic committee caucuses, strengthening party leaders and making both party and committee leaders responsible to rank-and-file Democrats. Electoral changes increased the homogeneity of House Democrats while institutional reforms reduced the influence of dissident members on a consensus in the majority party. Rohde's accessible analysis provides a detailed discussion of the goals of the congressional reformers, the increased consensus among Democrats and its reinforcement by their caucus, the Democratic leadership's use of expanded powers to shape the legislative agenda, and the responses of House Republicans. He also addresses the changes in the relationship between the House majority and the president during the Carter and Reagan administrations and analyzes the legislative consequences of the partisan resurgence.

A readable, systematic synthesis of the many complex factors that fueled the recent resurgence of partisanship, Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House is ideal for course use.
Professions are institutions which, through their small size, self-governing elements, and sense of social mission, can assist in maintaining a sound civic culture. As mediating institutions in our democratic society that are neither entirely birthed by the state nor are entirely private, the individual professions—such as the legal and education professions, journalism, economics, architecture, or the military—arguably present practical avenues through which to teach civic behavior and to restore Americans’ broken trust.

This volume on the professions and civic life undertakes a unique and timely examination of twelve individual professions to see how each affects the character of American citizenship and the civic culture of the nation through their practices and ethos. Among the questions each essay in the volume addresses are: What is distinctive—or not—about the specific profession as it came to be practiced in the United States? Given the specialized knowledge, training, and sometimes licensing of a profession, what do the professions perceive to be their role in promoting the larger common good? How can we bring professionals’ expert knowledge to bear on social problems in an open and deliberative way? Is the ethic of a particular profession as it understands itself today at odds with the American conception of self-government and a healthy civic life?

Through analysis of these questions, each chapter presents a rich treatment of how the twelve longstanding professions of political science, teaching, the law, the military, economics, medicine, journalism, literature, science, architecture, music, and history help support and challenge the general public’s civic behavior in general and their attachment to the American regime in particular.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, produced a revolution in domestic security in the United States. The Bush administration responded quickly by aggressively enforcing existing laws, sponsoring new legislation, overhauling domestic intelligence, and employing the president's executive power in ways that drew criticism from civil libertarians on both the left and right. Many hoped that the succeeding administration would adopt a more 'European' approach to domestic security-an approach typically understood to be more compatible with the rule of law and friendlier to civil liberties. But Europe has suffered major terrorist attacks as well-in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005-and terrorist plots continue to plague America's European allies. Has this shared experience engendered a common approach to domestic security, or, as many believe, is there a transatlantic divide in counterterrorism strategy? In Safety, Liberty, and Islamist Terrorism: American and European Approaches to Domestic Counterterrorism, Gary J. Schmitt leads a group of security and intelligence experts in analyzing the domestic counterterrorism regimes of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, and the United States. The author's in-depth analysis provides a unique window into the similarities and differences among the counterterrorism efforts of these major democracies and explores the possibilities (and limitations) of applying one country's lessons to another. Safety, Liberty, and Islamist Terrorism concludes with a broad assessment of the changes made to U.S. counterterrorism strategy since 9/11 in comparison with current European laws, institutions, and practices, and with policies instituted during past American domestic security crises. The analysis uncovers evidence of a shared strategic imperative: preemption. For the United States, preemption occurs both at home and on battlefields abroad, while for Europe, preemption is primarily a domestic affair, often resulting in laws that allow more aggressive policing of terrorist activity than occurs in the United States. The comparison also yields insights about how the transatlantic community has balanced the need to address the jihadist threat with maintaining civic order at home. Although no country has a perfect record, Schmitt contends that changes made to domestic security policy in response to the terrorist threat have not undermined the United States and Europe's shared commitment to democracy and liberty. 'Certainly, tradeoffs have been made between individual liberties and domestic security,' Schmitt writes. 'But if we take the broad view, we are struck by how minimal those intrusions on our liberties have been, given the threat we face.'
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