What’s the matter with Congress? Washington Post and ProPublica undertake analysis to find out

A study by the Washington Post and the nonprofit investigative reporting operation ProPublica finds that America’s founding tradition of robust debate in the elected Congress “has been replaced by a weakened legislative branch in which debate is strictly curtailed, party leaders dictate the agenda, most elected representatives rarely get a say and government shutdowns are a regular threat due to chronic failures to agree on budgets.”

The detailed analysis, available here,  says “the transformation has occurred relatively fast — sparked by the hyperpolarized climate that has enveloped politics since the 2008 election of President Barack Obama and the subsequent dawn of the tea party movement on the right. During that time, as the political center has largely evaporated, party leaders have adhered to the demands of their bases, while rules and traditions that long encouraged deliberative dealmaking have given way to partisan gridlock.”

Among other things, the study finds that “House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has logged an all-time high in his two years of leadership for the number of ‘closed rules,’ when leaders eliminate any chance for rank-and-file amendments. Ryan closes off discussion four times as often as former speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., did 20 years ago.”

It also finds that Congressional committees meet to consider legislation less than ever, and that junior senators “have fewer opportunities to wade into the issues of the day, largely because Senate leaders limit the number of votes on amendments to proposed legislation,” and “Over seven years, not a single spending bill passed on time.”

The investigators note: “The initial culprit is well-known: political polarization in a divided nation.”

You can also listen to a panel discussion and podcast about the project at this link.

Julie Hauserman
Julie Hauserman has been writing about Florida for more than 30 years. She is a former Capitol bureau reporter for the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times, and reported for The Stuart News and the Tallahassee Democrat. She was a national commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and The Splendid Table . She has won many awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is featured in several Florida anthologies, including The Wild Heart of Florida , The Book of the Everglades , and Between Two Rivers . Her new book is Drawn to The Deep, a University Press of Florida biography of Florida cave diver and National Geographic explorer Wes Skiles.


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