Yet, as today's roundup highlights, Washington gridlock stems from how Congress operates, from rampant filibuster abuse to blind love of ineffective supercommittees. The solution to breaking Washington's gridlock isn't to smear more (rightward) bipartisanship over the shards of a broken system. Rather, the system itself must be reformed to promote nonpartisan solutions to our nation's most pressing problems --- even if those nonpartisan and effective solutions are part of a partisan process.
First up, Peter Diamond at The New York Times takes on supercommittees, which have proven themselves to be nothing more than petri dishes for Capitol Hill egos and ineffective "solutions":
Instead of wide-ranging, politically motivated panels, we need narrowly targeted commissions, without sitting members of Congress, modeled on the successful Base Closure and Realignment Commissions of recent decades. [...]Harvey Rosenfeld at The Huffington Post writes that being an advocate for filibuster reform should be one of Senator Elizabeth Warren's top priorities:
[E]ven if a deal comes together, grand bargains reached by sitting members of Congress are likely to be revised and further watered down just as the sequester will not happen as it was legislated last August. Members of Congress are concerned with the good of the country, as they see it, and the election and re-election of themselves and members of their parties. The presence of both concerns complicates deal making and may prevent it completely.
What we need, instead, is a set of narrowly targeted commissions, each with a clearly articulated task and the ability to require a no-amendments, up-or-down vote — and all without sitting members of Congress. Like the base-closure commissions, the panels could include former members of Congress, tax and budget experts, and representatives from the business and public-interest community.
The filibuster used to be a powerful tool for a minority of members of the Senate to take on the majority: Senators could block a vote on a bill by speaking on the floor of the Senate until they dropped... or 60 senators voted to shut down the filibuster. Unfortunately, this extraordinary measure, once rarely invoked, has devolved. Under the current practice, a Senator need only threaten a filibuster to block a vote. It's been used hundreds of times since 2006 by Senate Republicans to derail action on important bills and judicial appointments. Warren has already pledged to revise the filibuster rule when the Senate convenes in January. As she points out, preventing abuse of the filibuster is necessary if the Senate is going to move forward to address the nation's most pressing problems.More on filibuster reform from David Kolb at The Muskegon Chronicle:
As it’s now construed, the [filibuster] rule allows a mere 41 senators out of the 100 in the chamber to completely bring the business of the nation to a halt.Julian Zelizer at CNN:
Worse, these senators don’t have to do anything except watch the train derail before it arrives at the station. All it takes is their unwillingness to vote for cloture -- essentially shutting off the promise of endless debate -- which is enough to deny the legislative efforts of the other 59 senators.
This is a point gravely misunderstood by citizens who criticize the so-called “gridlock” in Washington, assigning the blame to both major parties when in fact it’s only one major party -- the Republicans -- who are doing all the damage.
As the nation continues to be obsessed with a sex scandal involving top military officials and as the lame-duck Congress figures out what to do about the fiscal cliff, Washington would do well to think seriously about how government reform might improve the basic machinery of the federal government so that elected officials are better able to handle the big issues of the day such as unemployment, immigration, climate change and more.Over at Bloomberg, Cass Sustein argues that the U.S. Senate confirmation process needs immediate reform:
Reform must start with reining in the power of money and organized interest groups. Campaign finance reform, once a promise of President Barack Obama in 2008, has taken a back seat even though the president made some progress on reforming lobbying early in his term. [...] When Congress reconvenes in early 2013, it will have one shot to change the rules so that the threshold for passing a filibuster is lowered. In January 2009, lawmakers let the opportunity slip away. The chronic use of the filibuster threat has been one of the central culprits behind dysfunction as the congressional minority has immense power to block progress.
The U.S. Senate confirmation process is badly broken. In fact it is a disgrace. It needs to be fixed. There is no time like the present. [...] An unfortunate consequence of Senate obstructionism is that important offices can remain unfilled for long periods. An entire presidential term is just four years, and many high-level appointees end up serving for less than that. If the Senate delays confirmation for six months or more, a significant chunk of an appointee’s total time in office is lost. [...]Meanwhile, at Politico, former governor Jennifer Granholm looks at the GOP's credibility gap:
[T]he Senate should amend its rules to forbid a single senator, or a small group, from placing a hold on a nominee to an executive branch position...the Senate should ensure that every executive branch nominee is given a prompt up-or-down vote, probably within two months of the nomination date (with an exception for extraordinary cases involving genuinely serious issues that require longer periods).
The Republican Party is looking for a new identity. And they’re looking, literally, everywhere.And finally, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers at Bloomberg take a parting look at the validation of data-based political analysis over vapid punditry and add an another dynamic -- crowd prediction:
At the Republican Governors Association in Las Vegas, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was the most … shall we say … direct, proclaiming, “We’ve got to give our political organizational activity a very serious proctology exam. We need to look everywhere.”
I’m loath to give the Republicans advice, but I’d humbly suggest that rather than giving their organization an uncomfortable exam just to change their tone, technology and turnout, they consider changing their ideas.
And I’d suggest they start by looking at their position on freedom.
The Republican Party has a major credibility gap on that issue. Why? The Republicans are for free enterprise, but not free people. And that is their fundamental problem.
The quants bring data, computers and formal models. The pundits -- though they do use data -- rely more on gut feelings, industry experience and personal contacts.
In the latest skirmish, the quants won. They predicted the election outcome far more accurately than the pundits did. [...] The 2012 election had a clear winner: Analytics beat intuition. This is threatening both to the likes of Carville and Rove and to their intuition-driven counterparts in the corporate world. But the quants also have to respect the crowd. The success of prediction markets and expectations polls tells us something truly humbling -- that knowledge doesn’t just reside in the executive suite or in a quantitative model. For executives nimble and humble enough to accept this, it presents a great opportunity.