Causes of Congressional Gridlock - Essay Sample

Published: 2021-08-03
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Wesleyan University
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One of the major causes of congressional gridlock is division in the executive and the legislative branch of the government. In most cases, division occurs when the two arms of government are not unified under the same political party. The different political parties control either of the two arms of government. As a result, the bipartisan agreement becomes less frequent, and the Congress fails to pass substantive policy decisions. In a divided government, the two opposing parties controlling different levers of power always push for the enactment of their partisan policies (Chafetz, Josh, & Josh, Blackman). In the United States, gridlock occurs when one of Democrats and Republicans control either the Senate or the House of Representatives. It also happens when an opposing party controls the executive even though the Congress is unified under one party.

Gridlock also occurs because of polarization between the two opposing parties. Americas Republicans and the Democrats have wide ideological gaps between them. Currently, Democrats are more liberal than in the past while the Republicans have become more conservative. The Democrats push for Senate control while the Republicans seek to maintain control of the House of Representatives. Polarisation leads to inter-chamber disagreements and differences in the control of congressional policies. The more the inter-chamber discrepancies, the more difficult it becomes for the Congress to pass substantive policies (Chafetz, Josh, & Josh, Blackman). Another cause for congressional gridlock in United is the polarised party activists. Liberal candidates enjoy immense support from democratic activists while conservatives enjoy support from Republican activists.

Based on ideological differences aligned to the political parties, elected official fails to agree on many legislative policies. As a result, only a few members close to the political center are willing to compromise their political positions. The third cause of congressional gridlock is the technological advancement and the nature of media communication. It is common for politicians to be in the spotlight, both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. They are mainly driven by concerns about re-elections and are not willing to compromise their relationship with their constituents. Their primary objective is to satisfy their constituents even when it means rejecting an important bill. Following this, the Congress has failed to act on essential policies as none of the members of Congress is willing to compromise their electoral position.

Solutions to Congressional Gridlock

Majority of American voters agree that operations in the Congress need to be more transparent and the continued gridlock need to come to an end. For these to take place, members of the Congress must be willing to compromise and avoid partisan approaches to proposals from other party members (Binder, Sarah). A plan to encourage change among members of the Congress is structural constitutional changes to create a more transparent and conducive framework.

First, the constitution can be amended to ban the requirement of a supermajority vote in the secret holds and the House. It will discourage members from turning up for a vote and encourage an up-or-down vote on almost all legislation other than impeachments and constitutional amendments. Second, Congress must increase transparency in legislation. Currently, legislation is not limited to a single subject indicated in the title of the bill. A separate bill with multiple topics encourages congress members to hide unrelated topics in one bill. Transparency will help specific policies on a separate bill which will promote congress members to pass a bill more quickly.

Third, it is possible to reduce congressional gridlock by extending House terms. Currently, the two-year limit discourages members of the Congress from focusing on policy issues. Instead, most of them focus on re-election, party loyalty and good relationship with their constituents. An extended house term will encourage members of the Congress to pass substantive policies without worrying much about re-election in two years time. A fourth proposal is extending the presidential term to six years with a single-term-limit. A longer, single-term-limit enables a president to focus more on his goals rather than focusing on re-election. It becomes easy to pass substantive policies proposed by the legislature despite their differences in political alignment. A fifth proposal is to embrace legislation on redistricting reform to reduce Gerrymandering (Binder, Sarah). It is assumed that redistricting reflects population changes and fair representation. However, many electoral maps are drawn in favor of the party with a state-wide majority. This act leads to the election of polarised representatives in both marginal and safe districts.

Effects of Congressional Gridlock in America

In 2016, the Democrats and the Republicans were eager to rob each others victories ahead of presidential elections. They both resisted legislation of social policies by engaging in other unrelated bills of little public concern. For example, attempts by Obama to revive the gun control bill were drowned by same-sex marriage hearings by the Supreme Court. In the Congress, legislation on gun control faced colossal opposition by the Republicans. The gun control bill even met external influence from The National Rifle Association (Binder, Sarah). This association gave unfair grading to senate democrats who supported the bill. To the Democrats, supporting the gun control bill would risk the loss of political capital. Although the majority of the Senate voted in favor of the bill, it was pulled off due to the gridlock in the Senate. They failed to prioritize the bill amid the security threats and public outcry to enact the bill.

In 2014, House Republicans refused to support the comprehensive immigration bill a year after the Senate passed it. The Democrats argued that the bill would reduce cases of illegal immigration after enactment. On the other hand, House Republicans argued that the bill amounted to a breach of the rule of law. However, their resistance was beyond ideological differences. Unlike their conservatives affiliated with the Democrats, House Republicans were not motivated by genuine conservatism (Parker, Christopher). Most House Republicans were affiliates of the Tea Party which are opposed to immigration. Tea Party groups hold the perception that immigrants are taking over their country. As a result, Tea Party groups lobbied the House Republicans to vote against the comprehensive immigration reform. As a result of the gridlock, the Congress failed to deliver a comprehensive immigration reform that had gained full acceptance in the public domain.

In recent years, health care issues have become embedded in legislative gridlock. Different agendas on health issues by the Democrats and the Republicans are the primary causes for the gridlock. For instance, congressional Republicans a Republicans in the White House promised to obliterate Obamas health care law and provide a less expensive and more efficient health care system. In July this year, President Trump criticized the Congress for failing to vote for the new health care bill. Majority of the Republican governors opposed the bill that had gained popularity among their constituents. Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, blamed the Democrats accusing them of neglecting the debate even though he had publicly opposed their participation (Binder, Sarah). Most Republicans accused Mr. Trump of his inconsistent support and negative comments for their work. In the end, members of the Congress agreed that a bipartisan approach was the only way forward for healthcare legislation.

Works cited

Binder, Sarah. "Going Nowhere: A Gridlocked Congress." Brookings, 2017,

Chafetz, Josh, and Josh Blackman. "Gridlock." Harvardlawreview.Org, 2017,

Parker, Christopher. "The (Real) Reason Why The House WonT Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform." Brookings, 2017,

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