Incivility, demonization, and partisan gridlock have increased in both houses of congress. Cross partisan friendships–so crucial for reaching bipartisan agreements–are mostly gone. Respect for congress and approval of the job it's doing have hit historical lows — now around 10%.
On this page you'll find analyses of the institutional rules and procedures that have contributed to the problem, and you'll find suggestions for rule changes that might make both houses function more civilly and more effectively.
I) THE SENATE
–The Senate is broken, as George Packer explains in the New Yorker
–Here's another portrait of the Senate and its decline into dysfunction, by Sarah Binder, at Brookings [posted by haidt, jan 2012]
–The senate should be much less polarized than the house. States are much more diverse and balanced than house districts, so that should pull for more centrism. Yet the Senate is almost as polarized as the house. Theriault & Rhodes (2011) show that this surplus polarization is due in large part to the fact that many current Republican senators came from the House, and were influenced by Newt Gingrich's changes to the culture and procedures of the House.
–WaPo's Chris Cillizza chimes in on the migration of partisanship to the Senate. Now nearly half of our Senators served in the rowdy House prior to the Senate. Also a factor is the "sheer newness" of the body–most Senators today having served one term or less [4/13].
II) THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
The House currently operates under the "Hastert rule," which bars a vote on any legislation that is not favored by a majority of the members of the majority party. This means that many pieces of pending legislation cannot even be voted on. The rule was implemented in 2004 under Speaker Dennis Hastert; repudiated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who allowed both parties to vote together) but then reinstated by Speaker Boehner.
III) OTHER OR OVERARCHING ISSUES WITH CONGRESS
–A simple suggestion: mixed party seating during the State of the Union Address. “The choreographed standing and clapping of one side of the room — while the other side sits — is unbecoming of a serious institution,” [Senator Udall] wrote. “And the message that it sends is that even on a night when the president is addressing the entire nation, we in Congress cannot sit as one, but must be divided as two.” A poll shows the idea has considerable bipartisan support with the approval of 72% of the American public (with 22% disapproving). Mixed party seating is supported by 81% of liberals, 83% of moderates, and 56% of conservatives. Support appears slightly higher among older and female voters.
IV) The No Labels approach: This bipartisan group argues that the most common fixes discussed (changing primaries, reducing influence of money) will take many years. Instead, they propose a list of 12 changes that could be implemented quickly. Here's a video describing all 12. And here's a blog post where we'll gradually come to a consensus on some of the points.
Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, has a superb set of analyses and reforms in his book, The Parties vs. The People. For a brief summary, see this essay in the NYT
This page is edited by Jonathan Haidt, for now
News and Links
–The Room That Could Transform Washington Sen. Manchin & Rep. Jenkins issue a No Labels statement of purpose: "There is no ideological litmus test to join. We simply require a positive attitude and a willingness to put policy above politics"
–How to Free Congress's Mind, by Amy Gutmann & Dennis Thompson, 11/20/11; Ideas to promote compromise,
–The Commuter Congress: No more Senate Wives club, no more meeting your opponents' families; gone is one of the great supports of civility in Congress. (Newsweek)
–See a great list of reforms offered by Mickey Edwards (former Republican congressman).