Dynamist Blog

Bring Back Gridlock

What has Congress accomplished? A pork-filled highway bill (Is there any other kind?) and an energy bill that's all subsidies plus Daylight Saving Time--everything for which there was an actual policy debate was removed as "controversial." Who, after all, can be against giving money to constituents?

The WaPost wrapup gives a good summary of what constitutes victory--and effectiveness--in Washington:

Shackled for months by a familiar brand of Washington gridlock, President Bush and the Republican leaders in Congress last week suddenly found a key. A long-stalled energy bill, an international trade accord and a massive highway appropriations measure all moved to passage -- handing big victories to business interests and quieting talk that a second-term president was bereft of influence.

This surprising midsummer rush of legislating made clear that the reality of Washington's current balance of power is more complicated than surface appearances. On the most highly charged ideological issues -- the proposed restructuring of Social Security, chief among them -- a unified Democratic opposition has stymied Bush, creating an impression of GOP impotence. On less partisan measures backed by powerful economic interests, Republicans have benefited from enough Democratic support to advance their agenda in expensive and far-reaching ways....

Still, Allan J. Lichtman, a professor of political history at American University, said that while the country has been preoccupied with the "flash and show" over social issues, Republicans are reshaping the policy landscape in favor of a certain brand of big-spending conservatism. "It's an absolutely remarkable performance by Republicans," he said.

Contrary to Lichtman, big-spending Republicanism isn't an alternative to social issues. It's a complement--and one that (I hope) may eventually backfire. By jetisoning any pretense to free-market principles, the GOP is defining itself entirely as the party of the religious right. The subsidies to friends are simply business as usual for whatever party is in power, a tool for fundraising but not for defining party identity.

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