Patrick Barron Presents

Is Congress more polarized and partisan then before?

In a nut-shell, yes it is.

If "Yes" is the correct answer then the next question becomes; "Why?"

In Congress before 1996 committee chairmen and ranking committee members grew into their roles and positions as ranking members and committee chairs through seniority. This meant the committees were run by the chairmen and often able to operate very separate from their respective party leadership. This also gave the committee chairs the ability to negotiate with other committees and move legislation based on their personal preferences rather than singular party ideology. To be effective as a committee chair or ranking member meant you had served for a longer period of time and had developed the ability to negotiate. Relationships were built. Deals were made. Being extreme was not to your, your committee's or your preferred legislation's benefit. This made compromise possible.

When the republicans swept into office in 1996 this all changed. In an effort to downsize and make government more efficient government 3 standing and 31 sub-committees were eliminated. Some say this was an additional attempt by then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to consolidate power back to the party leadership. In a move to please the public, instead of attempting to pass congressional term-limits, committee term limits were instituted. Committee chairs were now only allowed to serve for 3 terms or six years. Sounds like a good step.

Without using the seniority system how would committee chairs be assigned? Without the seniority system committee chairmen and ranking members are now assigned by the party leadership. They are chosen by the "loyalty and commitment" congressional members show to their party. Loyalty and commitment equals ideology and money. Loyalty; the more a member will defend, promote and only move their leaderships agenda and legislation the better candidate they are for a committee chairmanship. Commitment; the more money a member raises and then in turn gives back to his party the better candidate they are for a committee chairmanship (more on Party Dues).

Today almost any ranking committee member pays at least 250,000 dollars to his party to be eligible. Senior members and party leadership pay into the millions to be promoted to positions of authority.

Due to this system all legislation is moved forward or stalled by the ideology of party leadership. All negotiations are driven by leadership. There are two parties, two ideologies, fostered by entrenchment and money. Your thinking has been correct; today there is significantly more polarization, partisanship and gridlock.

This article is from Politico on March 11, 2011. Please go to Politico, Rollcall, Bing and others, search "member dues" or "party dues" you will find many, many more articles!

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