Tag Archives: gridlock


In the wake of November’s election, my biggest concern was the prospect of Donald Trump in charge of a unified government: with a Republican House and Senate, I was sure we would see legislation canceling progress on the environment, reversing rights for women, gay citizens and immigrants, and eviscerating public education, among other nightmares.

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, recently explained why we have yet to see that legislation. Her column was titled “Here’s why, even with control of everything, the GOP can’t govern.” She began with a quote from the Wall Street Journal:

Many popular postelection wagers took a hit last month after Republicans failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which highlighted the difficulties they could face advancing new legislation even while holding the White House and both houses of Congress.

She went on to describe the current situation.

If one had any doubt, this week’s events — a half-baked tax proposal that would not pass one let alone two houses, another failed effort at Trumpcare, White House bluffs and retreats on the budget — should have disabused observers of the notion that Trump’s agenda would sail through Congress…

Trump cannot manage to devise attractive legislation or get down in the weeds of negotiation, while House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) seems willing to accommodate whatever group is currently rocking the boat, regardless of the likelihood of success. Neither Ryan nor Trump can lead a successful legislative effort. As a result, members of Congress figure there is little reason to stick their necks out for either one. “Members of Congress have watched with horror as Trump thrashed about in Washington with little predictability, guided by top aides with little experience in the trenches of government,” Time reports. “Staffers with decades of Hill experience find themselves sidelined by political neophytes who think barking orders can get Congress to act. More than once, White House officials have told Paul Ryan that his role as Speaker may be in jeopardy if he does not do more to help Trump.”

Rubin notes that –given his priorities–Trump’s inability to get things done is a gift; gridlock looks pretty good when balanced against this administration’s goals.

This is not to say we don’t have substantial problems or need competent leadership. However, this president and this Congress have not a clue how to proceed. They would potentially do much more harm than good. They are prisoners of extreme ideology, unrealistic expectations and their own incompetence.

Wonkblog recently came to a similar conclusion. In a column tracing the reasons that  financial markets aren’t betting on a big Trump stimulus anymore,  Matt O’Brian wrote

But a funny thing happened on the way to Trump’s making great deals. It turns out that everything is more complicated than anyone named Donald Trump knew. It isn’t easy to get Republicans to agree on a health-care plan when some of them think the problem with Obamacare is everything, and others think it’s just the name. Or to get the whole party to agree on which tax loopholes to close to pay for all their tax cuts. The result, according to Trump, is that health-care reform is always a week away, and tax reform, always two weeks.

In the meantime, though, the economy is still chugging along at the same 2 percent pace it has been the whole recovery. So when you add it all up — a government that’s doing nothing today, that looks as if it will be doing nothing tomorrow, and an economy that’s doing nothing different from what it has been the last decade — there’s no reason to expect the dollar to go up anymore. And it hasn’t. It has given back most of its post-election gains to now only be up 1 percent over that time.

I don’t know about you, but I’m gratified that these clowns seem unable to learn.

California–Yes, California!– Shows Us That Government Can Function

Something very strange is wafting in from the Left Coast. I think it is called sanity.

Long derided as the “land of fruits and nuts” and the poster child for official disfunction, California has turned itself into a model for diminished partisanship and adult legislative behavior.

The state has turned a gigantic deficit into a surplus and renounced the toxic partisanship that had regularly led to budgetary gridlock–not to mention the recall of a governor not so many years ago. As the New York Times recently noted,

 But in the past month, California has been the stage for a series of celebrations of unlikely legislative success — a parade of bill signings that offered a contrast between the shutdown in Washington and an acrimony-free California Legislature that enacted laws dealing with subjects including school financing, immigration, gun control and abortion.

The turnaround from just 10 years ago — striking in tone, productivity and, at least on fiscal issues, moderation — is certainly a lesson in the power of one-party rule. Democrats hold an overwhelming majority in the Assembly and Senate and the governor, Jerry Brown, is a Democrat. The Republican Party, which just three years ago held the governor’s seat and a feisty minority in both houses, has diminished to the point of near irrelevance.

Political scientists in the state credit several recent reforms for the turnaround–especially the abandonment of gerrymandering in favor of nonpartisan redistricting. As a result, Representatives are no longer beholden to rabid base voters in deep red or deep blue districts, and thus fearful of “getting primaried.”

Unlike candidates in carefully drawn partisan districts, Republicans running for office in California are no longer  insulated from demographic shifts. That’s particularly important in states like California, where growing Latino and Asian populations tend to vote for progressives. One Republican quoted in the Times article acknowledged that the redistricting–along with changes to a nonpartisan primary system– were “freeing lawmakers from obedience to their party bases.”

Majority rule should reflect the will of real majorities. Gerrymandering has given minority factions a veto over majority preferences–it has enabled a sort of legislative “ju jitsu,” the results of which we have recently seen all too clearly.

Here in Indiana, we can choose to be Texas or we can choose to be California.

We should emulate California, but the signs aren’t auspicious.

Travel Tales, or Civilization’s Discontents

Monday I participated in the final round of judging for this year’s We the People—an all-day exercise that left me and most of the other judges exhausted, but so impressed by the depth of knowledge and poised delivery of these high-school students from all over the country. Tuesday—yesterday—it was time to come home.

My husband makes fun of my obsessive-compulsive need to be at the airport well before flight time. Yesterday proved how wrong he is.

The Mason Inn, where we were staying, is on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, just outside Washington, D.C.  When I arrived, the trip there by cab from Washington National airport took about 45 minutes. Ever the cautious sort, I scheduled a taxi for 8:45 for my 11:00 flight, and was gratified when it arrived about five minutes early. Plenty of time to get to the airport—or so I thought.

The cab driver told me it was still rush hour, so it would probably take an hour to get there. What happened next was absolutely surreal: the traffic on the (badly misnamed) expressway was stop and start nearly the entire way. I’ve seen gridlock, but nothing comparable to this; I kept looking for a reason—a wreck, a stalled car, merging lanes—anything that would explain the bumper-to-bumper traffic. I saw nothing.

It took us an hour and forty minutes to get to the U.S. Air terminal. I had thirty stressful minutes to get through Reagan’s always-long security lines (staffed, I might note, with people who took an incredibly laid-back and leisurely approach to their duties), and my flight was almost through boarding when I made it to the gate.

Other than confirming my belief that when you are flying, you should always allow more time than you think you will need, the slowed-to-a-stop traffic was a sobering cautionary tale. The moral?  Automobile travel is ultimately unsustainable. We cannot build enough highways, pave enough municipal landscape, to ease the congestion. If humans are to get from point A to point B, a substantial number of us will need access to public transportation.

A train from the Mason Inn to the airport would take perhaps thirty minutes. Furthermore, it would take a reliable thirty minutes that one could schedule and depend on.  (I might note that a train—or even express buses—would also emit far fewer pollutants into our atmosphere.)

If I had to drive in traffic like that I saw yesterday, I’d have an ulcer–or persistent road rage.

When you consider how much it costs to buy, operate, insure and maintain a car, and the hours of productive time wasted in lengthy and unpredictable commutes, you start to understand the insanity of America’s car culture and its negative impact on our quality of life.

I didn’t think I could get any angrier at the Indiana legislature for once again derailing mass transit for Indianapolis, but yesterday proved I was wrong–I can get angrier, especially when I wonder how long it will take for Indianapolis’ highways to look like those I traveled yesterday.

It’s Us

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves…

Shakespeare penned those words; Nate Silver demonstrates their accuracy.

The increasing partisanship and polarization in Washington is making it more and more difficult to get anything meaningful done. The paralysis of government is real, and it is making all of us vulnerable–to economic recession, to climate change, to gun violence and all of the myriad challenges of contemporary social systems. Those in what Molly Ivins called the  “chattering classes,” the punditocracy, bewail this state of affairs, and insist that the American public not only deserves better but deeply disapproves of this ideological rigidity.

Nate Silver begs to differ.

in a recent post for the New York Times, Silver demonstrates that the gridlock in Washington mirrors our own polarization. As recently as 1992, there were 103 swing Congressional districts; this year, there were 35. At the same time, the number of “landslide” districts doubled, from 123 to 242. As a result, most members of Congress now come from “hyperpartisan” districts where they face no general election threat. Any re-election challenge will come in a primary; in other words, Democrats must protect their left flanks, Republicans their right. As Silver notes, House members have little incentive to move toward the middle. Compromise with the other party simply makes them vulnerable to a primary challenge.

I have written about the pernicious effect of “safe” districts before, but I have generally assumed them to be the product of redistricting–gerrymandering. But Silver says the effect persists even if we ignore redistricting. He underscores what Bill Bishop reported in The Big Sort: people are voting with their feet, moving to areas they find congenial. The result is that Democrats are crammed into urban areas, and Republicans populate more rural districts. The result of that is the dilution of Democratic votes: in this year’s election, Democrats won the national popular vote by one point–an 8 point shift in their favor from 2010. But they gained only 8 House seats out of 435.

The results of these population patterns disadvantages Democrats by making continued control of the House by Republicans likely (absent a “wave” election), but it holds an even more serious threat to Republicans. As Silver points out, although individual Republican House members have little incentive to compromise, there are risks to the party if they fail to do so. Individual House members come from districts that reward them for being intractable, but that intransigence and hyper-partisanship make it increasingly difficult for the GOP to win either the Senate or the White House.

It seems appropriate, given how dysfunctional our government has become, to devolve from Shakespeare to Laurel and Hardy:  this is certainly a fine kettle of fish we’ve gotten ourselves into!