Partisan Mindset
Partisan Mindset

By Marian Currinder

James Taranto, “Moderate voters, polarized parties,” Wall Street Journal:

“Those old enough to remember the decades before the ’90s, then, may tend to see permanent majorities around the corner because they expect a return to normalcy. Mr. Fiorina, by contrast, argues that frequent shifts in political control are now the norm because of the way the parties have changed. He rejects the common view that American voters are ‘polarized.’ Instead, he says, the parties have become polarized, in a process he calls the ‘sorting’ of the electorate…. He arrives with a PowerPoint presentation that visualizes the data behind his theory. A pair of bar graphs show the ideological distribution of lawmakers in the 87th Congress (1961-63) and the 111th (2009-11). In both eras Democrats were the liberal party and Republicans the conservative one. But the pattern is markedly different: In 1961-63, both parties’ lawmakers tended to cluster in the middle. In 2009-11, there were two clusters—Democrats to the left, Republicans to the right. ‘There’s no longer any overlap at all,’ Mr. Fiorina says. ‘The center is empty. That hasn’t happened in the electorate.'”

More on Congressional Parties

Lee Drutman, “Rage Against the Machines, Washington Monthly:

“That hyper-partisanship is wrecking American democracy is a truism of our times. But there is a lack of consensus about what to do about it. One challenge is that many pundits and would-be reformers lack historical understanding of the problem, which leads them to both over-romanticize the past and believe it can be reconstructed through sheer exhortations for more compromise. These reformers should read Sam Rosenfeld’s new book, The Polarizers, a timely and valuable guide explaining how our current political divisions came to be.”

David Weigel, “How the Clinton-Gingrich years became the ‘good old days’: Republicans revisit 1994,” Washington Post:

“Washington Post political reporter David Weigel sat down with four former GOP congressmen: Vin Weber, now a lobbyist in Washington; George R. Nethercutt Jr. (Wash.), who has his own consulting firm; Zachary Wamp (Tenn.), now part of the ReFormers Caucus, a bipartisan advocacy group of former lawmakers and Cabinet officials; and Thomas Davis (Va.), director of federal government affairs at consulting giant Deloitte. They talked about the Republican Revolution and how politics has changed since then.” 

Paul Kane, “What Democrats can learn from the centrists who got Bill Clinton to the White House,” Washington Post:

“Washington Post reporter Paul Kane met with Al From, Chuck Robb, Sam Nunn and former Democratic Leadership Council staff members and strategists Elaine Kamarck, Melissa Moss, Bruce Reed and Deborah Smulyan. During the hour-long conversation, the group reminisced about the DLC’s ascent and discussed its legacy, including some of the criticism that was lobbed against it during the 2016 presidential race from both the left and the right.” 

Congressional Capacity

Saahil Desai, “When Congress Paid Its Interns,” Washington Monthly:

“The same institutional penny-pinching that has devastated congressional staff has all but wiped out paid internships, with pernicious consequences for Washington and American democracy.”

Gary Andres, “Can caucuses save Congress?” The Hill:

“Will the Rugby Caucus save Congress? Probably not, but it is one of a number of so-called “Congressional Member Organizations” or CMOs (aka Caucuses) that are changing the way Congress operates in a largely unnoticed and understudied way. Moreover, some new political science research demonstrates caucuses are an antidote to today’s partisan fever. Lobbyists, legislative leaders, and rank-in-file members of the House and Senate all need to better understand the growing role these entities play and how they can both assist and frustrate the lawmaking process.”

Nancy Scola, “Can Washington Be Automated?” Politico:

“This kind of data-crunching might sound hopelessly wonky, a kind of baseball-stats-geek approach to Washington. But if you’ve spent years attempting to make sense of the Washington information ecosystem—which can often feel like a swirling mass of partially baked ideas, misunderstandings and half-truths—the effect is mesmerizing. FiscalNote takes a morass of documents and history and conventional wisdom and distills it into a precise serving of understanding, the kind on which decisions are made.” 

Congressional Retirements

David Hawkings, “Inside the House Republican brain drain,” Roll Call:

“Even if the GOP manages to hold on to its majority this fall, its policymaking muscle for the second half of President Donald Trump’s term will need some prolonged rehabilitation. And if the party gets swept back into the minority, its aptitude for stopping or co-opting the newly ascendant Democrats’ agenda will require some serious retraining.That’s because more than a third of the Republicans who began this Congress with standing committee gavels in their hands, eight of the 21, will not be members of the House a year from now.”

James Wallner, “Orrin Hatch’s retirement may set off musical chairs in GOP Senate committee leadership,” Washington Examiner:

“Hatch’s decision caps a seven-term career in the Senate and upends the power structure among Republicans heading into 2019. The contest to succeed him as the top Republican on the powerful Finance Committee will shape the GOP’s position on healthcare, entitlements, and tax policy, and help determine what the party can accomplish in the time remaining in President Trump’s first term in office. Hatch’s exit also kicks off a game of musical chairs that will affect a number of other panels beyond the Finance Committee.”

Edward-Isaac Dovere and Ben Baker, “Two Dozen Members of Congress Can’t Wait to Leave D.C. Here’s Why,” Politico:

“The ferocity of the Gingrich Revolution, President Bill Clinton’s impeachment—even the Tea Party shutdown wars of 2011 and 2013 seem like the good old days to them now. Capitol Hill is an angry, scattered mess; each party is storing up grudges to get revenge for the next time it gets the chance; and the victories are always fleeting. When pressed, the departees will confess to deep concerns that flow from Trump, the reaction to Trump, and the politics that created and elected Trump.”

Nate Cohn, “G.O.P. House Retirements are Surging, but the Number in Competitive Races Isn’t as Striking,” New York Times:

“The exodus of House Republicans hasn’t brightened Democrats’ prospects quite as much as the total number of retirements might suggest. A relatively high number of Republicans have retired in competitive districts — defined here as districts that lean less than 10 percentage points toward Republicans or Democrats in presidential elections — but that number is still not out of the ordinary. In fact, Democrats have almost the same number of vulnerable incumbents retiring.”


Jonathan Bernstein, “Congress Needs Earmarks, Even If They’re Overrated,”

“I asked congressional scholars on Twitter for how much of a difference reviving earmarks would make to greasing the wheels of legislation, and for the most part their answers were similar to what I would have said: It would help, but not all that much. So on a ten point scale Molly Reynolds of Brookings and Matt Glassman of Georgetown both said it would be about a 2 or 3. Some did suggest that it would make a more substantial difference on passing spending bills.”

Haley Byrd, “The Return of Earmarks?Weekly Standard:

“Republican lawmakers are gearing up to debate an uncomfortable question they won’t be able to put off much longer: Resurrect earmarks, or leave the controversial practice dead and buried?”

Sarah Ferris, “House GOP mulls lifting ban on earmarks,” Politico:

“Republicans on the House Rules Committee plan to revive a debate over earmarks in hearings launching next week, even as members of their own party blast the banned practice as a symbol of the Washington swamp.”

Budget and Appropriations

Matt Glassman, “Outlook for the FY 2018 Appropriations Process,” GAI at Georgetown University:

“The most likely outcome at this point appears to be another short-term CR into February or March, followed by a sizeable increase in the BCA caps on both defense and non-defense spending—although probably something less than a parity increase between the two—and completion of an FY2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act. The wild card is immigration. The broad outlines of a possible deal are visible, in which the repealed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy is extended or modified in exchange for increased funding for border security. Whether such an agreement can be reached by the negotiating factions, however, isn’t certain.”

George Will, “America needs a balanced-budget amendment,” Washington Post:

“Democracy generally, and especially legislative bargaining, is inherently additive: Majorities are assembled by attracting components with particularized benefits. Christopher DeMuth, president emeritus of the American Enterprise Institute, notes that from the Founding to the 1930s-1960s New Deal-Great Society era, this natural tendency of government to grow was inhibited by the bipartisan political ethic: Deficits were neither prudent nor seemly except when ‘borrowing was limited to wars, other emergencies, and investments such as territorial expansion and transportation; and incurred debts were paid down diligently.’”

Debating Debates and the Filibuster

David Hawkings, “Topic for Debate: Time to End Congressional Debates?Roll Call:

“Here’s a modest proposal to jumpstart the new year: Do away with what passes for “debate” on the floors of the House and Senate. Doing so would mean Congress is facing up to its current rank among the world’s least deliberative bodies. It may be a place suffused with rhetoric, some of it pretty convincing at times, but next to no genuine cogitation happens in open legislative sessions and precious few ears are ever opened to opposing points of view. In today’s polarized climate, all the hours of speechmaking have essentially no persuasive power or predictive value.”

James Wallner and Molly Reynolds, “Rules Around the Senate Filibuster,” Niskanen Center’s Political Research Digest:

“New books by Molly Reynolds and James Wallner explain when Senate majority parties use procedures to get around the filibuster. Reynolds finds parties follow their electoral and policy preferences, but Wallner finds that minority party threatened retaliation can deter change. Matt Grossmann talks to both about the future prospects for the filibuster and the ways around it.”

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Marian Currinder
Marian Currinder is a senior fellow with the R Street Institute’s Governance Project and editor of Marian previously served as senio...