Good Stalemate Causes AND Consequences Of Legislative Gridlock Book Report Report Example
Written by Sarah Binder
This written report appertains to the book Stalemate Causes and Consequences of Legislative Gridlock, written by Sarah A. Binder. It was published by Brookings Institution Press in Washington D.C. and copyrighted by Sarah A. Binder in 2003.
Introduction of the Author
Stalemate causes and Consequences of Legislative Gridlock was written by Sarah A. Binder, who is a senior fellow in Governance Studies. In this book, Binder has reviewed more than fifty years of congressional legislative history. In particular, she has successfully compared the regularity of Congressional deadlock and, in doing so, has offered readers an informed and intuitive glimpse into Congress’ performance over this period.
Sarah A Binder begins with this quote: “Gridlock is not a modern legislative condition” And while it's easy to curse the gridlock that continues to exist to this day, the author argues that many Americans fail to realize that the founding fathers had “fears about tyranny and thereby sought protection through competing legitimacies” (Binder, 5). Here, the author describes the phenomenon of true and unintended consequences of constitutional design: “A mismatch between the design of an institution and the effects of that institution can occur for two reasons” (Binder, 5). The first reason why this phenomenon occurs is that politicians can’t always get what they want. The second reason has to do with the fact that mismatches occur between institutions in the government. In some cases, the institutions created by Congress turn out to be truly ineffective. Sarah A. Binder describes congressional gridlock as a system of divided institutions that share constitutional powers, which on the one hand heightens the chance of stopping legislation that abuses constitutional powers but on the other hand hinders the chance of legislation passing. The author talks about a “New” Bicameralism and how the Senate, initially created by its founders to check on the House of Representatives, has instead evolved into its own legislative body. Sarah A. Binder then makes an important point about the consequences of political parties. She describes this as diabolical, in that when party politics came into place, a “bridging the separation of powers was created” (Binder, 20). Members of Congress, the Senate or the White House would now share policy interests, which have only served to further gridlock. This added gridlock in times of party polarization is what has caused political leaders from both sides of the aisle to move ideologically to the opposite side of the spectrum. Later in this same chapter, Binder then talks about how elections affect institutions that manage to tap into ideological views. She then goes on to discuss the frequency of stalemate, starting off by using the example of the 1965-66 Congress under President Lyndon B. Johnson that passed policies like “health care, environment, civil rights, transportation, and education statutes” (Binder, 34). The congress of 1965-66 would move on to pass a total of 22 extensive laws. From there, Binder then moves on to measure the frequency of stalemate by the underlying policy. She discovers, for example, that a Congress in gridlock isn’t successful at passing legislation in comparison to a Congress with only limited legislation to pass.
The twenty-seven Congresses that assembled between 1947 and 2000 only agreed on policy and on an average of thirteen laws during periods when the same party controlled both houses and eleven times during times of split control. Lastly, Binder also points out that domestic policy is more likely to end in stalemate than is foreign policy. As we dive deeper into the text, Binder mentions that during an election year legislators are more likely to seek out issues that maintain their support for their political party base as opposed to working towards a bill.
In the next chapter, Sarah A. Binder evaluates what drives legislative action. In essence, the author believes that most legislative policies are driven by electoral dynamics. She also mentions that partisan polarization rarely leads to much legislative production. Instead, she insists it is better for the parties to be more moderate, which leads to a greater chance of legislative success. It is also important to mention the fact that Presidential support also plays an important role in legislation. If the President requests that Congress act, the congressional opposition might decide to concede and allow its passage.
In the last chapter, Sarah A. Binder talks about the consequences of stalemate and outlines many that have previously gone undiscovered. Binder makes a very large point in this chapter: that incumbents will eventually develop resistance to being removed from office by other candidates even when accounts of congressional stalemate run high. Today, party polarization has increased with representatives leaning both to the far right and left, resulting in a far higher case of stalemate within the government.
I will start this analysis by stating that Stalemate causes and Consequences of Legislative Gridlock is a fantastic book to read, given that Sarah A. Binder uses facts and logic to construct a smooth and entertaining reader experience.
Even though most people might be lead to believe that the book has a political leaning, I believe the author wrote this book in a non-partisan fashion and stuck by her commitment to conduct a non-partisan look into the phenomenon of stalemate. From her opening statement that “Gridlock is not a modern legislative condition,” Sarah A. Binder builds her case that gridlock has in fact plagued Congress since the early eighteen hundreds. She then goes on to state that almost two hundred years ago, one of the founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, actually complained about stalemate. Binder writes that many scholars have questioned the “framers intent” as to whether or not the founding fathers really wanted gridlock in Congress. This is an important question that Binder then goes on to answer. She states that James Madison also helped form a government with limited powers because doing so would favor stalemate. Most Americans today would consider this to be a screwball tactic because nothing seems to get done in Congress when political parties drift from the center to the extremes. There are many national polls today in which Americans have voiced their distaste about Congress.
People might think that gridlock only exists today, given the many conflicts that have raged between Congress and President Obama and led to several government shutdowns. However, the author points out how gridlock also existed during President Bush’s presidency, which ended up being the main reason he broke his promise not to raise taxes and decided instead to agree with congressional Democrats to do so. President Clinton’s presidency was also characterized by much gridlock with congressional Republicans, which explains why he was unable to pass his healthcare reform act through Congress.
The theme of the book would seem to invoke the notion that gridlock is good. Sarah A. Binder states: “Perhaps a crisis is necessary for generating the compromise necessary to drive legislative success” (Binder, 85). In essence, the author believes that most legislative policies are driven by electoral dynamics, although she does believe more moderate parties in opposition have a greater chance of legislative success. I tend to support this side of the argument. Most politicians and citizens in the US would argue that gridlock is bad for our government, but I would disagree. Gridlock protects our institutions and our government from passing laws that undermine the constitution of the United States. As political parties continue on the path of polarization and to write legislation that favors either the far right or far left agendas, these bills will most likely fail to pass in Congress or the Senate. And we can thank gridlock for that. Thus, I believe gridlock in a two-party system like ours saves us from ridiculous legislation and acts as a cushion for our democracy.
Binder, S. (2003). Stalemate causes and consequences of legislative gridlock. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.