“IF I sponsor a bill declaring apple pie American, it might fall victim to partisan politics,” declared Barack Obama over the summer. His statement came in a speech on the border crisis, but could have been made about any number of recent issues. From the federal shutdown to gun control, stalemate is America’s political norm. Congress is more interested in playing politics than solving problems. Even discussions about congressional gridlock have come to resemble the gridlock itself, static and tired. Language, like politics, reaches an impasse.
In a recent study for the Brookings Institution, Sarah Binder seeks to place the discussion on firmer empirical ground. Her study examines America’s history of legislative dysfunction in order to contextualise the contemporary stalemate. Part of the challenge involves measuring legislative success: what’s the baseline against which to compare output? At what point does a system designed to encourage healthy checks and balances become detrimentally deadlocked?