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Thread: The US Political System: a recipe for gridlock?

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    Politics.ie Member Shqiptar's Avatar
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    Default The US Political System: a recipe for gridlock?

    In the Irish political system, we have a government which exercises all executive and legislative control. When we elect them, we're basically handing to them the power to do what they want for as long as they're in power which can last for up to 5 years. We also have a president whose powers are far more limited.

    It might not be perfect but it means that when the people vote a party or parties into power, those party/parties receive a genuine mandate to effect change.

    In the US system, the president has far more powers including the power to veto a bill. The Senate and House of Representatives can also shoot down proposals from the president. Once upon a time, both houses were almost always controlled by the same party that controlled the White House. Between the start of the 20th century and the end of Lyndon Johnson's reign, one party or the other controlled the whole federal government -- the White House and both houses of Congress -- for 54 of 68 years, about 80 percent of the time. So there was little friction between the centres of power.

    Since then, the USA has had one-party government for just 14 of 44 years, less than one-third of the time. These days, at any given time, the president is likely to be from one party whilst one or both Houses are controlled by the other party. As if this in itself wasn't enough to guarantee the sort of legislative deadock that we see over the fiscal cliff issue, consider the fact that congress is now more partisan than it used to be. Whether it's the environment, gay marriage or "Obamacare", Republicans and Democrats just have a lot less to agree on these days.

    Like almost every developed country, the USA faces major fiscal and demographic challenges. Yet, its founding fathers seem to have bequeathed to 21st century Americans a system that puts far more emphasis on checks and balances than on taking critical decisions.

    Sources.
    1. How the Congress Became More Partisan - Infographics
    2. Eric Black: U.S. or Parliamentary System? One Is Nearly Gridlock-Proof -- and It Ain't Ours
    3. Our role in America's political divide | StarTribune.com
    4. The dysfunction that lies at the very heart of American politics | Michael A Cohen | Comment is free | The Observer
    Last edited by Shqiptar; 11th December 2012 at 11:02 AM. Reason: Evil early-morning typos
    Eagla agus eaglais: an bhfuil an fhréamh teangeolaíochta céanna acu?

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    Politics.ie Member kerdasi amaq's Avatar
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    "Gridlock", that means that the system is working properly.

    Politicians who can do nothing are the safest form of political pondscum.
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    Kerdasi brings up a good point. The whole point of our system of checks and balances is to prevent power from being too concentrated in any one branch of the federal government. It's a balancing act between the federal executive branch, the federal courts, Congress and the state governments. Bare in mind, our country was designed to be more a relationship between the states and the federal government than one of the federal government and the people. I'd truly hate to have any one party dominate the federal government. I'd hate for either the Democrats or the Republicans to have some rubber stamp Congress to pass any far-reaching legislation that they wish.
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    It's better than a system where 51% of the electorate decide who the dictator will be for five years - or in the British case about 40% of the electorate.

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    The USA is both a federal and a continental country so I don't think a parliamentary system would be effective. I think the checks and balances are good, George W Bush was deeply unpopular for the last two years of his Presidency and he been a Prime Minister he would have quickly been dumped but he had a four year term and we were stuck with him but the same system prevents a cabal of backbenchers ousting an unpopular President.

    The Houses of Congress have different (but similar) functions, for instance the President only needs approval from the Senate for Cabinet and Supreme Court nominations and in the current situation the President and the majority of the Senate are from the same party. Were they not from the same party than the sitting President could alter course and nominate those more acceptable to the opposing party. Also the US politicians aren't "whipped" the same way that those in Ireland or the UK are and much more frequently vote against their own parties.

    Lastly, while no system is perfect, I am concerned about the plans for the Irish political system, with the reduction in urban/county councils, the proposed abolition of the Seanad and the reduction in the number of TDs, much more power is being concentrated in the hands of fewer politicians. Not sure that this is a good thing.

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    Politics.ie Member Shqiptar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kerdasi amaq View Post
    "Gridlock", that means that the system is working properly.

    Politicians who can do nothing are the safest form of political pondscum.
    So politicians elected by the people should have no power?

    Well then, what's the point of holding elections? And who should wield power?
    Eagla agus eaglais: an bhfuil an fhréamh teangeolaíochta céanna acu?

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    Politics.ie Member Shqiptar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SJMcMahon View Post
    Kerdasi brings up a good point. The whole point of our system of checks and balances is to prevent power from being too concentrated in any one branch of the federal government. It's a balancing act between the federal executive branch, the federal courts, Congress and the state governments. Bare in mind, our country was designed to be more a relationship between the states and the federal government than one of the federal government and the people. I'd truly hate to have any one party dominate the federal government. I'd hate for either the Democrats or the Republicans to have some rubber stamp Congress to pass any far-reaching legislation that they wish.
    That all worked pretty well when US politics was a lot more bipartisan than it is now. Once upon a time, some GOP folks sided with some Dems and vice versa.

    Now, US politics - from across the pond - looks to be at least as adversarial, perhaps much more so than European politics. Extensive checks and balances don't work in such a situation - as can be seen with the endless wrangling over fiscal problems.
    Eagla agus eaglais: an bhfuil an fhréamh teangeolaíochta céanna acu?

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    Politics.ie Member Shqiptar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by titmouse View Post
    It's better than a system where 51% of the electorate decide who the dictator will be for five years - or in the British case about 40% of the electorate.
    Coalition government is very much the norm here and I'd say that the UK is heading that way too. Coalitions - by definition - provide their own implicit checks and balances.

    There's another problematic aspect of the US system that virtually precludes the possibility of smaller third parties emerging to wield real power: if you're not a Democrat or a Republican, you're frozen out - frozen out by the media and from the major debates.

    A slightly more fragmented party scene would make the discourse less adversarial and allow e.g. in the current fiscal cliff stand-off, other proposals to emerge that wouldn't be tainted by being seen as coming from The Other Side.
    Eagla agus eaglais: an bhfuil an fhréamh teangeolaíochta céanna acu?

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    Politics.ie Member Dame_Enda's Avatar
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    The reason for gridlock is often the "cloture" rule in the Senate which requires 60 votes to even bring a measure to a vote. I have advocate the introduction of the American system here except the cloture rule. The corruption exposed in the Tribunals, and the docking of points for well-connected officials such as judges underline the necessity for this. The American confirmation process for powerful officials like judges and Cabinet minister nominations has also proved useful in weeding out ethical and policy problems with various candidates.
    Save the 27th

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    Politics.ie Member Shqiptar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NYCKY View Post
    The USA is both a federal and a continental country so I don't think a parliamentary system would be effective. I think the checks and balances are good, George W Bush was deeply unpopular for the last two years of his Presidency and he been a Prime Minister he would have quickly been dumped but he had a four year term and we were stuck with him but the same system prevents a cabal of backbenchers ousting an unpopular President.

    The Houses of Congress have different (but similar) functions, for instance the President only needs approval from the Senate for Cabinet and Supreme Court nominations and in the current situation the President and the majority of the Senate are from the same party. Were they not from the same party than the sitting President could alter course and nominate those more acceptable to the opposing party. Also the US politicians aren't "whipped" the same way that those in Ireland or the UK are and much more frequently vote against their own parties.

    Lastly, while no system is perfect, I am concerned about the plans for the Irish political system, with the reduction in urban/county councils, the proposed abolition of the Seanad and the reduction in the number of TDs, much more power is being concentrated in the hands of fewer politicians. Not sure that this is a good thing.
    You could have all the checks and balances you want within a more parliamentary system. Look at France where there is quite a balanced division of powers between parliament and the president. But stuff gets done.
    Eagla agus eaglais: an bhfuil an fhréamh teangeolaíochta céanna acu?

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