Thursday, November 21, 2013

Vito's Take On Congressional Gridlock


(Editor's Note:  Coming off the smashing success of The Vito & Vito Show, here's a piece submitted by Vito Palmeri with his take on Congressional politics.  Discuss away!

The Constitution states that “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.”  Even with frequent elections, most members of the House continually get re-elected. Although the House sees some members in office for so long, a few changes can alter the majority opinion, leading to problems in just how effective Representatives are. This creates a double edged sword. Even though voters can evaluate members of the House of Representatives more frequently, the slight changes in the House create conflicts, paving the way for stalemates and ineffectiveness. 

Having a revolving door of Representatives every two years is somewhat beneficial in the American democratic system. The constant changing of politicians in Washington serves as a reminder to those in office that their job is to serve the People. This can have both a negative and positive effect on government efficiency. Many times we see politicians in office for years. Charles Rangel was elected to the House in “1971 and has served a total of 22 terms in office.”  In 2010, “85 percent of leaders in the House won re-election.”  

A further investigation into this trend gave way to a personal political theory called “political hibernation.” “Political hibernation” studies how the effects of longevity in the House relate to effectiveness in Washington D.C. Robert Sturble, from Political Science Quarterly, states “when competitiveness declines, an ever growing number of safe districts would produce safe careers.”  Members of Congress, who continue to win re-election, cast themselves in a “safe zone.” These members, essentially, sleep away their jobs under the protection of tenure. The lack of term limits in the United States Congress, with the exception of the president, has given reason as to why officials in office for a long period of time have grown out of touch with the People. 

To combat this issue, those who elect the Representatives, can change the ineffectiveness of government by voting them out of office. This process of throwing out incumbents and electing fresh, new faces every two years inspires those in office already to work hard, be productive and keep “awake”; ending the hibernation process.  “One such force is the principle of rotation in office. George Mason of Virginia, one of the more influential founders, held that ‘nothing is as essential to the preservation of a republican government as a periodic rotation.’”   This explains in great detail how “the principle in rotation” is key to keeping Congress working and effective. Voter response ends “political hibernation”, wakes up politicians in office, and gets things done.

Although voter response ends “political hibernation,” it also creates another problem. Just a few seat changes can alter the majority opinion in the House, creating an inconsistency. According to Alan I. Abramowitz, “Democrats may gain seats in the 2014 midterm elections, but the Republicans will hold the majority.”  Greater opposition, especially in the House, create greater partisanship, and when coupled with tactics of trying to win over voters, issues of efficacy begin to arise. 

Changes in the House, given a Representative’s short tenure in office, can have damaging effects. Members in the House continue to be evaluated much more frequently than their counterparts in the Senate, who serve a total of six years. “Legislators are likely to engage in behavior that will improve their standing in the electorate.”  Taken from Janet M. Box-Steffensmeier and Valeria N. Sinclair’s Legislative Effectiveness in the House of Representatives: Struggle, Strategy, and Success; leaders must play up the popular rhetoric for voters. 

Whether it be a district issue, party allegiance, or both, Representatives will, in an effort to gather enough of their districts support, vote on behalf of the mentioned motives rather than the true intentions on certain bills. The method mentioned has given way to partisan style gridlock, an unfortunate method that we have come to know as an expectable style of governing over recent years. Due to the short time members of the House have to get work done along with the fear of losing re-election, Representatives have concluded that the best way to stand out and gain district approval is by making as loud as a noise as anyone in the House, in the forms of writing or support of certain bills or attacking other members of the House as being “traitors” to their own parties. Representatives use this as a platform to stand out in national politics, showing voters that they can balance district issues and national politics. All members of Congress come to Washington with an agenda. Whether it be a federal, local or party agenda, all Congressional leaders have a plan. “Members sponsor bills with an intent aimed more at agenda setting and credit-claiming than policy-making.”  This style of governess is more prevalent in the House of Representatives then it is in the Senate, in part due to the differences in office tenure. 

With so many legislators in government, especially in the House, those voting on the issues come together in partisan support rarely breaking away from their parties’ stances in fear that their political career would be over quickly. In the 2010 midterm elections, “58.5 percent of Republicans won Congressional seats, 11.6 percent of them being inexperienced Republican challengers” . The general consensus of these results showed that voters wanted change in government, no matter the experience level, effectively ending the political careers of those in the middle for more aggressive Representatives, in this case, the Tea Party. 

“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, H.R.3590, passed the House on March 21, 2010 with a vote of 219-212” . Not one Republican voted in support of the bill.”  The strict opposition to the bill would go on to include a Supreme Court case, a government shutdown and constant amendments being shifted through Congress pertaining to the bill. These tactics of governing have stifled what was once healthy debate, in place of party allegiance and personal career gain. Members of the House, due their short time in office, must make statements to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field. “Like Tea Party Republicans shutting down the government in an effort to defund ‘Obama care’”,  government as a whole has seen a lack of moderation, contributing to the theory that members in the House must be quicker, more destructive with their moves than Senators, who have more time in office to discuss these issues, and more time for the public to digest their decisions.

The bicameral system in the United States government has been the poster child of democracy. With both houses of the legislator needing to come together to get things down, the U.S. style of government has proven to be long lasting. Members of the House serve two year terms. This short amount of time allows for the American People to change direction of the country in a quicker span of time rather than waiting six year terms, relative to Senators. However, due to the lack of time, Representatives must emphasize their role, often times siding with party politics and making a show of issues in an effort to stay away from causing too much trouble, while at the same time gaining political fame. With the combination of members in the House staying in office for so long and the little amount it takes sometimes for the majority to switch sides, the House of Representatives can be seen as ineffective. This style of politics can be damaging, limiting the amount of work, ultimately losing public support of the House, the Senate, Congress, the President and the country. 

2 comments:

  1. The House rarely changes. Most representatives are reelected and control by one party usually lasts quite long. Before the Republicans won control of the House in 1994 Democrats controlled it for forty years!

    Also, representatives come from small districts and those districts are usually ideologically to the left or right. For instance, in NYC most representatives borderline on communist and even our "republican" members of congress lean left on many issues.

    Republicans and Democrats have disagreements on many fundamental issues and that is reflected by their voting patterns in the House. "Obamacare" was universally opposed by Republicans because no fiscally conservative (or fiscally sane for that matter) member could vote for such a monstrosity of a bill.

    Senators serve six year terms but the original Constitution called for Senators to be selected by State Legislatures giving states a say in the federal government.

    The current system is a mess because Senators (least representative house in the federal legislature) are elected by popular vote in states of varying populations yet wield the same power as one another and House members are not subject to term limits.

    Anyone that spends more than a few years in Washington D.C. can no longer honestly represent the locality which sent them there.

    The answer is to repeal the 17th Amendment and to implement term limits on the House of Representatives.

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    Replies
    1. I do agree that Congressional term limits should be implemented. As evidenced with Charles Rangel, mentioned in the article.


      I also agree with the idea that Representatives are usually ideologically left or right. However, these Representatives also serve such a short time in office, two years, one would have to think that they will play up to their electorate much more than Senators would. This creates a hostile environment in the House due to members pandering to their voters, dividing up support of bills. Also, members also look to further their own political careers; "Members sponsor bills with an intent aimed more at agenda setting and credit-claiming than policy-making.”

      Lastly, by having direct election of Senators, the people have not just one voice in government, but two in the House and the Senate. What good would it be if State Legislators, who in New York, support one party most of the time elect in two Democratic Senator; instead of giving the power of democracy to the People with the chance that an opposing party might win a seat?

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