In yesterday’s Washington Post, Ezra Klein called “gridlock” a “metaphor that leads us awry,” because if Congress cannot get anything done, we get governing by waiver. He cites the waiving of rules set by No Child Left Behind, which expired in 2007, has not been updated, but continues as a kind of zombie baseline through proficiency goals and appropriations for states and districts that meet the goals, though targets are routinely waived. Likewise with the DREAM Act: it did not pass but the Obama administration no longer prosecutes “immigrants who fit DREAMER characteristics. They basically implemented the law by fiat.” Klein observes that Congress cannot agree either on what to do or on what they should prohibit the executive branch from doing. Republicans may see “lawlessness” in the actions of President Obama’s executive branch agencies, but to Democrats the utterly intransigent Republicans leave them no real choice. So “congressional gridlock is not like traffic gridlock” (Klein recalls for us the 60-plus mile backup that lasted ten days in China three years ago). “Things move…just (not) through the part of government they’re supposed to.”
The National Journal this morning has a story about Jeff Bezos with a different but complementary take on Washington dysfunction. Ronald Brownstein hypothesizes that the greater rigidity and ideological purism of Republicans is due to their more homogeneous electoral coalition. “The escalating blockade of Republican resistance to Obama’s initiatives–symbolized by mounting conservative demands to shut down the government to defund his health care law–increasingly resembles a kind of sit-down strike by nonurban white America against the racially diverse, urbanized electoral majority that twice elected the president.”
That sounds accurate to me, though the very local problems of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as he seeks reelection in Kentucky could have a wild-card effect on the Senate’s capacity to cut deals. Down on Fancy Farm in far western Kentucky, McConnell’s challengers on his right and left had the best lines the other day. McConnell has used the Fancy Farm event as a springboard for many years, but Democrat Alison Grimes got the better of him so far by saying that if McConnell’s “doctor told him he had a kidney stone he’d refuse to pass it.” And do you think President Obama might give him a waiver to pass the stone? “Please proceed, Senator”? No, a waiver for turtles would be too lawless even for Obama.
- Mitch McConnell gets barbecued: Politics at its weirdest, Kentucky-style (salon.com)
- At Fancy Farm, McConnell steps into crosshairs (nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com)
- Wonkbook: Governing by waiver (washingtonpost.com)