Gridlock in Washington

April 30, 2010 • Volume 20, Issue 17
Is Congress too polarized to act?
By Marcia Clemmitt


President Obama signs the health-care reform act (Getty Images/Win McNamee)
President Obama signs the landmark health-care reform act with Democratic leaders on March 23, 2010. Some observers say that passage of the historic legislation, despite a grueling 14-month political battle and no Republican votes, indicates that Congress is not hopelessly paralyzed. (Getty Images/Win McNamee)

Historic health-care legislation was enacted this spring, but the slow crawl of the law through the Senate suggests to many observers that Washington is in a state of gridlock — nearly unable to make new policy. Some political scientists blame the increasingly fierce competition for power between the ideologically rigid Democratic and Republican parties, which has risen to levels not seen since the Civil War. Other analysts blame the Senate's cloture rule, which requires a 60-vote supermajority to end a filibuster and proceed to voting. The rule gives undue, perhaps even unconstitutional, power to the minority, its critics argue. But other scholars maintain that the eventual passage of the health-care law is proof that Washington is not paralyzed. Indeed, they say a more serious problem is widespread voter misunderstanding of the importance the U.S. Constitution places on lengthy deliberation of issues before new laws are made.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Ethics in Government
Jan. 31, 2014  Whistleblowers
Feb. 18, 2011  Lies and Politics
Apr. 30, 2010  Gridlock in Washington
Jun. 22, 2007  Prosecutors and Politics
Jun. 16, 2006  Pork Barrel Politics
May 07, 1999  Independent Counsels Re-Examined
Feb. 21, 1997  Independent Counsels
May 27, 1994  Political Scandals
Apr. 06, 1979  Assassinations Investigation
Dec. 05, 1973  Presidential Impeachment
May 16, 1973  Ethics in Government
May 10, 1961  Secret Societies and Political Action
Jun. 29, 1960  Conflicts of Interest
Oct. 26, 1955  Businessmen in Government
Apr. 07, 1954  Fair Investigations
Apr. 25, 1952  Congressional Immunity
Dec. 05, 1951  Ethics in Government
Jan. 28, 1948  Individual Rights and Congressional Investigations
Jul. 02, 1934  Political Reform and Federal Patronage
Mar. 07, 1924  Congressional Extravagance and the Budget
Nov. 12, 1923  Issues Developed in the Teapot Dome Inquiry
Party Politics