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Is Congress Soon to Become Even More Dysfunctional?

Posted by Larry Ehl on Monday, May 7th, 2012

Transportation Issues Daily

To paraphrase one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs: “The Worst is Yet to Come” when contemplating the future of Congressional activity.  At least that’s what Politico’s Charles Mahtesian and Jim VandeHei lay out in “Congress: It’s going to get worse.“  This could be very bad news for future federal transportation bills.

Conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans are becoming extinct in Congress. The conservative House Blue Dog Democratic caucus lost half its members in 2010, and lost two more recently in the Pennsylvania primary. Moderate Senator Richard Lugar, first elected in 1976, is likely to lose his primary to a conservative challenger this week. Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan recently observed that “if Mr. Lugar loses the enemies of the GOP will rejoice, because while it’s assumed that he would sail through a general election, [the winning GOP nominee] might struggle.  Senator Orin Hatch, hardly a moderate Republican, faces a run-off primary against a more conservative opponent.

Those examples illustrate the thrust of the Politico article.  Mahtesian and VandeHei write:

“It’s hard to imagine that Congress could be even more polarized and more dysfunctional than it is at the moment. But it’s also hard to deny what’s happening on Capitol Hill. . . .The Republicans and Democrats the modern system produces literally come from different worlds and see no middle ground on the biggest issues of the day. They see elections — not the legislative process — as the place to settle their differences.

Moderate Republicans are basically extinct. Conservative Democrats, who not long ago accounted for more than a quarter of the party in the House, are getting wiped away, too – and will likely number a little more than a dozen after November. The Senate, once the chamber of deliberation and reason, is getting its own extreme makeover. Moderates such as Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and Democrat Ben Nelson are bolting an institution that barely resembles the one they entered as idealistic deal-makers.”

The entire article is worth reading, but here are a few other choice quotes.

“Former Rep. Michael Arcuri, a Blue Dog Democrat: “It just leads me to believe that it’s going to be harder and harder to get things done. It’s not that you don’t have good people there that want to work together, it’s just that their views are so far apart.”

“It’s not just the parties that are the problem. The interest groups aligned with them are also helping to eliminate the center by serving as enforcers of ideological orthodoxy. . . .Earl Pomeroy, a former North Dakota Democratic congressman who lost in 2010: “Basically, in the political marketplace, the elevation of the value of inflexibility over getting things done has been a big negative. And it’s largely fueled by well-financed interest groups that can take someone out.”

By the way, here is a link to a YouTube video of Sinatra singing “The Best Is Yet To Come.”

Larry Ehl is the founder and publisher of Transportation Issues Daily. In the public sector, Larry was Federal Relations Manager for Washington State DOT; Chief of Staff to US Senator Slade Gorton; and was twice elected to the Edmonds School Board.


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