Why is Congress broken? | reTHINK TANK


We hear it all the time: Congress is
broken. Everyone is dissatisfied. More and more
proposed reforms focus on facilitating majority power, like in a European
Parliament. But it’s not clear what problem that would solve. The trouble with Congress isn’t that majorities can’t get their way,
it’s that forging durable compromises seems impossible. But compromise is
Congress’s job, and if compromise can’t happen, then Congress can’t work. So what might make it better? To fix Congress we’ll need a clearer understanding of the
problem. For too many members, Congress has become just a platform for
performative outrage. Congress is failing as an institution now, and it’s
foundering stems from a lack of institutional commitment. To start, it
might be helpful to think about an American institution that seems to be
doing better: Major League Baseball. Hugh Heclo made this case in his book “On
Thinking Institutionally.” Baseball has certainly had scandals, but it generally
functions well as a self-correcting institution. The sport shapes the players
rather than the other way around. Participants follow a code of conduct and
a set of rules. While baseball can be a platform for ostentatious show-offs, the
most enduring appreciation mostly goes to players who exemplify sportsmanship
on the field. Unfortunately, members of Congress have given up on the practice of mature statesmanship, and only want to bask in
the media spotlight. Instead of engaging in the intense process of crafting
legislation, Senators and Representatives have chosen to use Congress as a
platform for their own partisan displays. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offers one
example. She revs up her supporters by trolling
opponents on social media. She promotes legislation like the green New Deal:
sensational, but fundamentally unpassable, designed to appeal solely to her base.
The decision by 30 Republicans to storm a closed-door impeachment hearing is
another example. While they delayed witness testimony for a few hours, this
dramatic moment did nothing to alter the House’s decision to move forward with
impeachment. But it did play well with supporters
watching on cable news. While partisan showdowns, vitriolic confirmation
hearings, and nasty twitter battles may look like home runs in the moment, they’re vacuous political theater. Meanwhile, Congress fails to carry out many of its
basic responsibilities, like passing budgets, and it delegates key legislative
functions to other branches of government, or the ballooning
administrative state. Why is this happening? One answer is that members of
Congress don’t want to be responsible for difficult decisions, so they pass
vague legislation while letting judges, bureaucrats, or the president hammer out
the details. It’s a bipartisan vice, but a more fundamental reason lies in our
culture, which has blurred the lines between politics and entertainment. Transparency is vital, but only up to a point. While Watergate exposed a need for increased congressional accountability,
the reforms that followed also overturned the rules and norms that had
previously socialized House members and Senators to work together. “Television
will change this institution, Mr. speaker, just as it has changed the executive
branch.” The arrival of C-Span in 1979 further eroded the closed spaces that
had allowed for careful negotiation, while giving politicians an audience for
grandstanding. “Here, Mr. President, catch this. Mm-hmm.” Putting
Congress back on track would require a variety of measures designed to commit
its members to its constitutional prerogatives, like rethinking the budget
process for a politically divided era, recreating space for private
deliberation, and rewarding individuals who work through rather than outside the
legislative process. Congress should be incentivized to view itself as a mold of
its members ambitions and characters, not just a platform for political
performance art. Until then, it will remain the weakest
branch of government. To learn more about the institutional
challenges facing our government, check out the link to my book, “A Time to Build”,
in the description below. Also, let us know what other topics you’d like AEI
scholars to cover on reTHINK TANK and be sure to subscribe for more videos and
research from AEI.

6 thoughts on “Why is Congress broken? | reTHINK TANK

  1. Politicians in modern western countries are generally self serving, corrupt, guided by their political agenda whilst pandering to the loudest minority groups instead of putting the country and the majority of people first. They appear to be above the law with no consequences for their actions.
    Trump is one of the only politicians that gives me confidence of leadership and change for a better world.👍

  2. The fact that there are huge swaths of the united state who remain willfully ignorant, or have chemicals in the water, or lead in the paint making them dumber, causes the country to be too dumb to follow the unifying beacon of logic, which most countries have embraced…

  3. Read Keys to the Kingdom. Corruption is inherent in the operation of every form of government from the most dictatorial monarchy to the loosest anarchy state.

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