Congress Isn’t Gridlocked, It’s Just Irresponsible

This morning I read one of many pieces about how gridlock (usually defined as “Republicans won’t agree to raise taxes”) is the reason the economy is not recovering properly, unemployment is high, small businesses won’t hire new employees, or consumers won’t spend their money. Here is a sample:

Gridlock in Congress may be taking a big bite out of job creation and the U.S. economic recovery. Corporate America is sitting on vast amounts of cash, waiting to see whether politicians in Washington will work out their big differences over the fiscal cliff and budget. The New York Times reports: “A rising number of manufacturers are canceling new investments and putting off new hires because they fear paralysis in Washington will force hundreds of billions in tax increases and budget cuts in January, undermining economic growth in the coming months.” Many economists and business experts speak of the rising toll of political gridlock. “The private sector could be doing a lot more but because of a great deal of uncertainty on the domestic policy front and in Europe, they are just sitting on capital. And we just have total gridlock in Congress,” Karen Tramontano, CEO of Blue Star Strategies and former deputy chief of staff for President  Clinton, told

Gridlock is even forcing lawmakers to retire, we are told. And, of course, the election of Senator Ted Cruz should be feared because it may mean more gridlock.

But that’s nonsense. Nick Gillespie and I wrote a piece for the Hill last week in which we explain that gridlock might be blamed for slowing things down — a good thing if you ask me — but it can’t be blamed for failing to address serious issues such as the need to cut spending, reform entitlements, or fix the tax code.

Besides, gridlock doesn’t mean that nothing happens in Washington. First, welfare reform, balanced budgets, capital-gains tax cuts, and defense cuts in the 1990s were all the product of gridlock that slowly gave way to consensus.

#more#Second, the alleged Washington “gridlock” certainly doesn’t stop Congress from coming together to do more damage and vote for more spending. Think about the bipartisan pork-ridden farm bill, the bipartisan Ex-Im Bank reauthorization, or the bipartisan protections of the sugar industry. And as Tad DeHaven of Cato reported this morning, last week the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted in a perfect bipartisan way against an amendment that would have terminated permanently the Department of Energy’s loan-guarantee program that gave us Solyndra.

Also last week, Congress managed bipartisan support for another continuing resolution, or “CR.” This agreement allows the apparently overwhelmed legislators to, once again, put off doing any real fiscal planning. In fact, it hasn’t managed to produce a federal budget in more than three years.

Washington’s problem is not “gridlock” or “ideological fervor.” As Gillespie and I explain:

What we’re actually witnessing — and have been for years now — is not gridlock, but the abdication of responsibility by Congress and the president for performing the most basic responsibilities of government. Despite the fiscal crisis that Washington knows will occur if it fails to deal with unsustainable spending and debt, it hasn’t managed to produce a federal budget in more than three years. 

To their credit, House Republicans have drafted, voted on, and passed a budget, but they are busy now trying to worm their way out of the very spending cuts — the sequestration deal — they insisted on as a condition for raising the debt limit last summer. 

One of the most egregious failures of the president’s budget was that it, as in his previous budgets, offered no serious plan to stabilize the largest entitlement programs. Instead, the president and congressional Democrats lambasted Republicans for actually addressing the problem in their budget.

The bottom line is that whichever party emerges victorious in November, and whatever happens in the lame-duck session that follows, this much is certain: Unless taxpayers begin demanding that their president and Congress act responsibly and do the actual work they were elected to do, so-called Washington gridlock will be the least of our problems.

I did a commentary on PSB yesterday on the issue, which you can watch here.  

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her primary research interests include the U.S. economy, the federal budget, homeland security, taxation, ...