What tips the balance for the authors is that Republicans seem to be moving faster and further to the right than the Democrats are to the left — something they see as a dangerous “asymmetry.” Moreover, the GOP is less inclined to embrace government solutions to national problems.
The biggest disappointment in their latest book is the authors’ almost complete abandonment of a central theme in “Broken Branch,” the need for Congress to return to “the regular order” — an adherence to the rules and procedures that guarantee deliberation, fairness and transparency in committees and on the floor.
In a 2008 epilogue to “Broken Branch,” published shortly after Democrats retook control of Congress, Mann and Ornstein, a Roll Call columnist, concede that Democrats “failed in most respects to return to regular order and to dampen partisanship in the legislative process.” However, they go on to excuse the party’s breach of promise on grounds that “implacable opposition to their agenda by the president and Republican leadership … made it virtually impossible to return to the regular order in committee, on the floor, and in conference, and still advance their legislative agenda.”
Perhaps it is this situational procedurism — of the ends justifying the means under certain circumstances — that allows the authors to again conclude, as they did in “Broken Branch,” that the election of a Democratic president and Congress might be the best cure for the institution’s dysfunction. It wouldn’t matter if this exacerbated partisanship or suppressed deliberation because the minority would be less able to delay or defeat the majority’s programs.
The authors conclude their book by warming to the reality of a quasi- parliamentary system — something they say can work if more decision-making powers are shifted from Congress to the executive branch and their preferred political party is running the show.
Don Wolfensberger is a Congressional scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a resident scholar with the Bipartisan Policy Center, and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.