April 10, 2019

“WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THE RISE OF RADICAL PARTISANSHIP IN CONGRESS?”: Over at the Federalist, Madeline Osburn is asking who killed civility in Congress. She resists (as she should) the usual story that it was Newt Gingrich. Instead, she reports that, according to Professor Kevin Portteus, the trend was already well underway in the 1970s.

I can add this: Part of the problem is that legislative compromise is a dying art in Congress. Why? Because one side (and for the examples that come to mind for me, that side is the GOP) has been repeatedly made into a chump when the compromise comes unraveled in the executive branch (through one-sided enforcement) or in the courts (through one-sided interpretation). The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 is a good example. For many years at least the part that GOP favored most went unenforced, while the part the Democrats favored most was interpreted broadly and enforced vigorously. There are other examples.

When legislators feel like chumps, they start shying away from legislating. That gets them out of the habit of negotiating with their colleagues across the aisle. Instead, they spend their time posturing. That posturing in turn makes future negotiations more difficult. Alas, I don’t know how to solve this problem. Once trust is lost—whether in the context of a legislature or elsewhere—is it hard to regain.

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