Why Congress Won’t Do Its Job — in 1 Chart

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One would think that because neither Democrats nor Republicans have unilateral control, now would be the prime time for bipartisan compromise. That today’s political climate is ripe for Congress to make headway on some historical legislation, like immigration reform, and for Congress to regain the trust of the American people.

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Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Members of Congress are more polarized than ever, creating a rift in Washington strong enough to shut our government down, literally and figuratively. Clinging to their party labels, elected officials overwhelmingly vote along party lines, leaving little room for compromise.

“In the 113th Congress, only 59 members have voted with the majority of their party less than 90 percent of the time (20 Republicans and 39 Democrats),” the National Journal writes.

Thirty years ago, both Republicans and Democrats spanned the ideological spectrum, with 344 members of the House falling somewhere in between “the most liberal Republican” and “the most conservative Democrat,” the National Journal reports.

Today, the current number of moderates, as defined by FairVote as house members with electoral incentives to work across party lines, is 6.

Why? A partisan electoral process combined with 201 years of gerrymandering means that elections are getting less and less competitive, with a candidate’s main challenge occurring in primary elections. When winning the primary, which in 47 states is a partisan process, almost always guarantees victory in general elections, is it any wonder why legislators put party interest above their constituents?

Below is a visualization from the National Journal, using data provided by OpenCongress, of what Congressional gridlock looks like in the 113th Congress. 

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  1. tomdryan It's almost as if the federal government was designed not to "make headway on some historical legislation" unless there was an overwhelming consensus that something needs to be done at the federal level rather than at the state level or not at all. Hmm.
  2. anotherview2 SfBay1 While true to some extent, your analysis leaves out the twenty percent of California voters who consider themselves as Independents.  A candidate to win a close election, or even one not so close, generally will have to appeal to voters beyond his party base, including Independents.  Doing so will tug the candidate toward the middle of the political spectrum.  In turn, officeholders will more reflect the middle of the political spectrum.  A more moderate politics should ensue.  We shall see.
  3. SfBay1 In California voters pass a non-partisan system that appears to be far better than the party dominated system in almost all other states. Yet the state is essentially a one-party state and so, ironically, the system will not necessarily benefit the state as much as it would states
  4. BlancaP @Lorraine Fields   False. It did a pretty good job for a long time. We are now at the point where we have tampered with how elections are done and districts drawn that we have broken it. The past is not always a good indicator of the future, especially if you keep making changes that kill the features that made it work well before.
  5. anotherview2 Remedy:  A constitutional amendment requiring balanced voting districts nationwide.  By vote of the people, the State of California has put in place a mechanism for accomplishing balanced voting districts statewide. If this change succeeds as intended, to make elections for office more competitive, then perhaps a citizen movement could push for a similar mechanism as a constitutional amendment.  Gerrymandered voting districts would disappear.  Moderate politics would return.  After all, to win election, a candidate would have to gain votes not only from his own party, but also from the other party and from Independents.  The extreme elements in each major party would become relegated to the fringe, where they belong.  Citizens would then experience a working government.
  6. Alex_G @Matt Metsack probably so it can give birth to another crisis
  7. Joe Cucchiara Forgot to mention it but all of you try and remember all this BS in November 2014.These guys told us before they went on a brake that next year they are only going to work for us for 111 days. This is because next year is an election year and we are going to pay these Ba$#%*@ an average of  $ 3,500 a week to stay in their home states and spend big campaign dollars (millions) to convince us that they work for our best interests and they  are our voices in Washing, yota yota!  Elect anyone but these guys again.Even the freshmen in D.C. learned how to talk out of both sides of their mouths. Don't take your eyes off the ball.
  8. Joe Cucchiara It's all about Money! These people are in office to stay in office, ie: get re elected and grab as much money as they can. Corruption is the Matra in D.C.Time to get the Foxs out of the Hen House, don't you think?
  9. Jeff Hardin I am not a Republican nor a Democrat, I am an Independent. As an independent I often have difference in opinion with both sides. I must say it is very easy to pick out which side people are on. Republican's are very straightforward and mean. Democrats are just rude and very condescending. For some reason the left believes they are so much more informed and intelligent than everyone one else. I say this as a non affiliated bystander, the left is just as misinformed as the right.
  10. Henry Gideon Worst congress ever coupled with ineffective White House equals National Disaster
32 comments
tomdryan
tomdryan

It's almost as if the federal government was designed not to "make headway on some historical legislation" unless there was an overwhelming consensus that something needs to be done at the federal level rather than at the state level or not at all. Hmm.

anotherview2
anotherview2

Remedy:  A constitutional amendment requiring balanced voting districts nationwide.  By vote of the people, the State of California has put in place a mechanism for accomplishing balanced voting districts statewide. If this change succeeds as intended, to make elections for office more competitive, then perhaps a citizen movement could push for a similar mechanism as a constitutional amendment.  Gerrymandered voting districts would disappear.  Moderate politics would return.  After all, to win election, a candidate would have to gain votes not only from his own party, but also from the other party and from Independents.  The extreme elements in each major party would become relegated to the fringe, where they belong.  Citizens would then experience a working government and progress, along with civility in political life.  

Joe Cucchiara
Joe Cucchiara

Forgot to mention it but all of you try and remember all this BS in November 2014.These guys told us before they went on a brake that next year they are only going to work for us for 111 days. This is because next year is an election year and we are going to pay these Ba$#%*@ an average of  $ 3,500 a week to stay in their home states and spend big campaign dollars (millions) to convince us that they work for our best interests and they  are our voices in Washing, yota yota!  Elect anyone but these guys again.Even the freshmen in D.C. learned how to talk out of both sides of their mouths. Don't take your eyes off the ball.  

Joe Cucchiara
Joe Cucchiara

It's all about Money! These people are in office to stay in office, ie: get re elected and grab as much money as they can. Corruption is the Matra in D.C.Time to get the Foxs out of the Hen House, don't you think? 

Jeff Hardin
Jeff Hardin

I am not a Republican nor a Democrat, I am an Independent. As an independent I often have difference in opinion with both sides. I must say it is very easy to pick out which side people are on. Republican's are very straightforward and mean. Democrats are just rude and very condescending. For some reason the left believes they are so much more informed and intelligent than everyone one else. I say this as a non affiliated bystander, the left is just as misinformed as the right.

Henry Gideon
Henry Gideon

Worst congress ever coupled with ineffective White House equals National Disaster

Jeff Hardin
Jeff Hardin

Since you bring up the ACA, it is flawed, very flawed! The flaws in the ACA all fall on the Democrats because it was passed without Republican support and it was passed blindly. No one read the law. The President admitted today that he didn't know the law. I did not want the government shut down. I think it was foolish and childish and showed a complete and total lack a leadership. The difference is that I blame both parties. I fully support a one year delay on the individual mandate. It is too big and too powerful a program to put it out broken. Take a year and fix it.

Matthew Crockett
Matthew Crockett

you obviously aren't up to speed on the actual facts. We had two presidential elections where the GOP tried to portray the current president as a Kenyan-born muslim communist terrorist. They held 42 repeal votes relating to ACA across three years Despite not having even bothered to make certain they had the votes in the Senate. Even if you disagree with the democrats, their position has been sufficiently established over three years to know that supergluing a demand to defund ACA to the budget was the same as purposefully seeking a shutdown.

Bubby Bass
Bubby Bass

I think "won't" may be better stated as "can't." Congressional leaders commit to special interests and partisan allegiance to get elected. When the time comes to vote conscience and ethics, they quickly discover they've sold both to the highest bidder.

Linda Burris Rictor
Linda Burris Rictor

It seems ANYTHING coming, out of D.C., is completely WRONG! Congress has had to face bullies and are doing the best they can. The problem is Obama and the Senate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

bobconner
bobconner

Almost a vertical representation of the Grand Canyon

Lorraine Fields
Lorraine Fields

You obviously haven't studied civics....we have a balance of power that has worked for 200 yrs..

Conrad Gosciminski
Conrad Gosciminski

The executive branch wants all or nothing. So like good little soldiers the Democrats will follow in lockstep and the Republicans will try to defend against stupidity ie. Obama Care. Do you still have your health insurance and your doctor? If so how long do you think you'll have it. Has your utility bill gone up by 50 per cent? Has your food prices gone up 50 per cent or more? Has the cost to drive and service your vehicle gone up a 100 per cent or more? Maybe that is the reason for the chart.

Reg Klubeck
Reg Klubeck

Looks like a Mana vs. Health problem...

Judith Shields
Judith Shields

Because they are doing what they are told by their puppet masters instead of by those who elected them

Stephen Salkin
Stephen Salkin

The reason congress won't do it's job is because they get paid for doing nothing. Now if they were paid peicework they might just accomish something.

Ax Winchester
Ax Winchester

counting down the days till the next revolutionary war

Diana Nares
Diana Nares

Simply put: you give the ball to the other team you get benched.

Curt Greenleaf
Curt Greenleaf

They are doing just as their owners request. Neither is interested in us, only themselves. They've procured their and their families future at our expense.

BMac47
BMac47

IVN you need a proof-reader for your material before it's posted. First sentence is incomplete and when you use the word "neither" the word "nor" is used in conjunction with it...not "or".

Alex_G
Alex_G moderator

interesting how symmetrical each side is to the other

Jeff Hardin
Jeff Hardin

I believe this a result of party politics. It is the role of the President to ensure the government is working for betterment of all Americans. When the President chooses to lead his political party an engage blaming and smearing the other party for political gain, two things happen. The opposition party fells overwhelmed and digs in to defend, the party in power feels empowered and begins to attack. The overall end result is fighting, political games and a slow down in government production.

Matt Silvia
Matt Silvia

It seems like the X and Y axis show almost the same thing. I'm having a hard time determining what that graph is meant to illustrate. It seems like it's saying the higher the percentage of votes cast along party lines, the higher the frequency of them being cast along party lines. What the heck does that clarify?

SfBay1
SfBay1

In California voters passed a non-partisan system that appears to be far better than the party dominated system in almost all other states. Yet the state is essentially a one-party state and so, ironically, the system will not necessarily benefit the state as much as it would states that have two viable parties.

BlancaP
BlancaP

@Lorraine Fields  

False. It did a pretty good job for a long time. We are now at the point where we have tampered with how elections are done and districts drawn that we have broken it. The past is not always a good indicator of the future, especially if you keep making changes that kill the features that made it work well before.

Alex_G
Alex_G moderator

@Matt Metsack probably so it can give birth to another crisis

anotherview2
anotherview2

@SfBay1 While true to some extent, your analysis leaves out the twenty percent of California voters who consider themselves as Independents.  A candidate to win a close election, or even one not so close, generally will have to appeal to voters beyond his party base, including Independents.  Doing so will tug the candidate toward the middle of the political spectrum.  In turn, officeholders will more reflect the middle of the political spectrum.  A more moderate politics should ensue.  We shall see.