Poll after poll shows Americans disgusted by partisan paralysis. It is what is often referred to as "Washington gridlock". Yet some political scientists argue, as frustrating as congressional inaction may be, it shows that the system envisioned by America’s founding fathers in the 1700s is alive and well.
Compromise is what most Americans expect their elected officials to do.
“Compromise is not a nasty word. It is how we get things done,” one person who stopped to answer VOA's questions said.
“I would rather see compromise to the better interest of people that are struggling,” another bystander added.
Americans demand bipartisanship, yet they are voting fewer moderates and more hardline ideologues into Congress, resulting in a more polarized legislature. While berating congressional inaction, voters often opt for divided government. The last president to enjoy a Congress of the same party for the duration of his tenure was Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.
For bills to become law, they must pass both houses of Congress. Senate passage usually requires three-fifths backing, giving the minority party a virtual veto.
Is all of this a problem? Not according to conservatives, who point out the framers of the U.S. Constitution wanted limited government. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says Americans should “learn to love the gridlock”.
“They talk about a dysfunctional government because there is disagreement. And the framers [of the Constitution] would have said, ‘Yes, that is exactly the way we set it up!’ We wanted this to be power contradicting power,” Scalia said.
Others argue there is a difference between limited government and paralyzed, ineffective governance.
“There are great dangers when people view their government as incapable of meeting the challenges of the time," noted historian Allan Lichtman. "The first danger is obviously that people lose faith in their government - that the best people will not want to go into government. Another consequence of having gridlock, of course, is you tend to skirt the most serious problems facing the country.”
The U.S. government was designed to block any one political force from exerting its will unchecked. So consensus and compromise are required to enact laws - precisely what most Americans demand. Are politicians listening? Maybe, says Frank Newport, with the polling firm Gallup.
“Now you have a lot of congressmen in Washington saying ‘You know, nobody likes us. We are less well-liked than car salesmen’. And, hopefully, they will ask themselves why, and they will read the data showing that Americans want compromise,” Newport said.
Members of Congress certainly speak of bipartisanship.
“It is time to continue to work together, find common ground, to do what the American people expect of us,” said House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.
“Democrats, Republicans, independents - all have said one thing to us. They want us to work together,” noted former House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Compromise, however, is often most challenging in an election year, like this one.