A Congress in Chaos Throws Off the Balance of Power | Commentary

Posted September 15, 2014 at 3:03pm

The past several years have marked a significant shift in the balance of power in Washington, and Congress has no one but itself to blame.

Speaker John A. Boehner has recently threatened to sue the president over executive actions taken by the administration, writing in an op-ed, “the President has circumvented the American people and their elected representatives through executive action, changing and creating his own laws, and excusing himself from enforcing statutes he is sworn to uphold.”

Reaction to this move by the speaker has been mixed on both sides of the aisle — but despite all of the finger pointing, both parties are to blame for the current state of dysfunction in our federal government.

While Democrats may view Boehner’s lawsuit as a political stunt, it is certainly reflective of a Congress that has descended into total chaos, unable to perform even the most basic functions of government instilled by the Constitution. The emerging culture of obstruction and hyper partisanship in Washington is threatening to derail any hopes of a functioning Congress for years, even decades to come. This will only serve to strengthen the hand of the executive and judicial branches, regardless of the party in power.

The state of dysfunction in the Congress not only throws off the balance of power, it also leads to a level of economic uncertainty that prevents American businesses, both large and small, from being able to plan for the future. And when businesses are uncertain about the future, it impacts their ability to create jobs and ultimately become greater drivers of our economic recovery.

The fact is we have built a system that not only rewards partisanship, but also discourages members of Congress from so much as speaking with members of the opposing party, lest they risk defeat in primary elections. Partisan politics was also the driving force behind the movement to “eliminate” earmarks, which did nothing to address our budget deficit and served only to shift the balance of power further away from the Congress to the executive branch.

Districts have been so gerrymandered over the years that only a small fraction are even remotely competitive. Add to that the fact that members of Congress are spending less and less time in Washington, so as not to be criticized for losing touch with their constituencies, the informal cross-party dialogue that is so important to our legislative process has all but been lost.

Redistricting is certainly a partial solution to the problem, but it is also going to take some political courage on both sides of the aisle if we are going to fix Washington and restore the balance of power within the federal government. There are some members in both chambers who are leading the way. Members of the Blue Dog Coalition, the New Democrat Coalition, the United Solutions Caucus and the Tuesday Group continue to actively pursue cross-party dialogue and solutions. In the House, a bipartisan group of representatives joined Democrat Patrick Murphy of Florida and Republican Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina to unveil a proposal aimed at modernizing America’s regulatory system. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle also joined together to pass the “No Budget, No Pay Act,” legislation that would prohibit members of Congress from receiving pay if they fail to pass a budget. This type of bipartisanship has been echoed in the Senate with members who work together to find solutions to the challenges facing our nation today. Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, routinely work together on energy issues and recently introduced their joint bill to protect hunting rights on federal lands.

While the current political environment often stymies their efforts, these members have demonstrated there are those willing to lead the way to a more functional Congress — a Congress where our elected leaders can come to principled compromise without abandoning their core beliefs.

Until others follow their lead, we can expect to see the executive branch continue to make significant and far-reaching policy decisions in lieu of Congressional action well into the future.

Cori Kramer is the executive director of Center Forward and a former chief of staff in the House of Representatives.