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October 07, 2013

Analysts: Is Dysfunction the New Normal in US Politics?

by Jim Malone

As the U.S. political crisis over funding the federal government moves into a second week, some analysts are wondering whether paralyzing gridlock and dysfunction have become “the new normal” in American politics. 
 
Frustration among the principals on both sides appears to be growing as the government shutdown drags on here in Washington. 
 
Republican House Speaker John Boehner is hoping the shutdown will eventually bring President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies to the negotiating table over issues that include the president’s health care law and government spending in general.
 
“This is not some damn game!  All I am asking for is let us sit down like the American people would expect us and talk to one another,” Boehner said recently. 
 
But the Democrats, including President Obama, continue to resist, angry that a faction of conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives is willing to shut down the federal government in hopes of forcing concessions from the White House.
 
“You do not negotiate by putting a gun to the other person’s head.  Or worse yet, by putting a gun to the American people’s head by threatening a shutdown,” Obama said.
 
The health care law, also referred to as ‘Obamacare’, went into effect in 2010.  Republicans have tried and failed several times to either defund the law or block it.  It has also become a rallying cry for conservative Tea Party groups around the country, groups that Republican lawmakers now depend on to get elected.
 
University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato says the ongoing fight over the president’s health care law can be traced back to the fact that it passed the Congress only with Democratic votes.
 
“When you have that kind of partisan split about a massive new program like Obamacare, you really are guaranteeing continued partisan division.  That is not to justify what the Republicans are doing now.  It is simply to say it is an explanation for why this has developed the way it has,” Sabato said.
 
Conservative Republicans say their willingness to shut down the government reflects the view of most of their constituents who are demanding a more aggressive stance against President Obama.
 
Democratic political strategist Stan Greenberg notes a deep sense of Republican frustration and anger in a recent survey.
 
“They think Barack Obama has succeeded in passing his agenda.  He has fooled people and passed his socialist agenda and they believe the problem in Washington is not gridlock.  They believe the problem in Washington is Republicans have not been strong enough in stopping him from succeeding in changing the country,” Greenburg  said.
 
On the other side, Democrats appear united in support of the president and his health care law and regard the government shutdown as an attempt at political extortion.
 
Some political analysts worry that this increasing trend of high stakes showdowns will become the “new normal” in U.S. politics.
 
John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington says both parties are focused more on shoring up their political base of support than reaching out to the other side.
 
“The country has realigned.  There are many strongly conservative districts and there are many strongly liberal districts.  So most of Congress can go home and listen to people who are on their side.  It is much more difficult than in the past, which was something more of a coalitional party system.  Today it is much more ideological,” Fortier said
 
There is also concern that this new hyper-partisan era in American politics could have unforeseen effects on the national economy as well as state and local governments.
 
Peter Brown with the Quinnipiac Polling Institute says there are a number of questions that could be answered by voters next year.
 
“What does it do for the economy?  Does it make the economy better?  Does it make the economy worse?  Does it not have an effect on the economy?  Voters are very unlikely to vote based on the shutdown in 13 months, but they are likely to vote on their view of the economy.”
 
The 2014 congressional midterm elections are little more than a year away and will offer voters their next opportunity to either demand a change in how the nation goes about the business of governing or to accept more of the same from its political leaders for the indefinite future.