Holding our future hostage
Photo (© Kennedy) – Dallas – We need to focus on untying knots, not tying more
November 21, 2011
For America to remain a land of opportunity, we need to dissolve the pillars that support the gridlock that prevents our political leaders from addressing the fundamental issues threatening our future prosperity. Today, in the failure of the super-committee to reach an agreement, we saw partisan gridlock at its worst.
Europe is crumbling under the weight of unsustainable debt levels and is finally being forced by the markets to address its excessive spending. As America watches this tortuous turmoil, with its own debt level as high as that of many European countries and rising, one would think it would be spurred to action. Regrettably no – a prime opportunity to act has been wasted.
Jerry Seib from the WSJ highlights a key obstacle to action – hyper-partisanship is not punished, indeed it is too often rewarded. Seib rightly fingers the gerrymandering of Congressional districts into safe Democrat or Republican seats. In all but a few districts, Members of Congress are more concerned about a primary challenge than a general election challenge. Members of Congress are therefore punished for reaching practical accommodation with the opposing party, but rewarded for being intransigent. As a result, even as fiscal stress mounts, vital military spending is held hostage, and the the super-committee is given extraordinary privilege to bypass normal obstacles to action, these political leaders could not find a path forward.
Not only has the super-committee’s failure received scant reaction, with a pedestrian stock market loss and only passing commentary by political pundits, so has the perpetuation of this primary pillar of gridlock – partisan districts. As we speak, states around the country are "redistricting" – redrawing their congressional districts. In most cases, Members of Congress from both major parties are breaking form to join together to reach agreement. In this case, their agreement is to protect each other’s districts. Then they submit a unified plan to their legislature and encourage their respective party's legislators to approve their agreement. Legislators, who have more contentious issues to address and someday hope to sit in one of those safe seats, obligingly agree. Who loses? We all do, from the resulting hyper-partisanship and gridlock we just witnessed.
Action Item – Engage in your state’s redistricting process by pressing for more balanced Congressional and legislative districts. Resist the urge to try to achieve as many seats as possible for your favored party. Instead, think about how this prevents our democracy from functioning. It is incumbent on all who believe in markets to ensure that the political market works as well.