NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bring Back Gridlock

November 26, 2003

On Jan. 23, 1996, Bill Clinton told the nation, "The era of big government is over." If so, it sure didn't last very long. Today, the era of big government is back with a vengeance, ushered in by a massive new prescription drug entitlement, a pork-laden energy bill of grotesque proportions and a trade war with China. Bruce Bartlett says it makes him long for the good old days of gridlock when one party controlled the presidency while the other controlled Congress.

Coincidentally, voters also have demonstrated a preference for gridlock.

  • Since World War II, we have had divided government almost two-thirds of the time.
  • Some 62 percent of Americans say they preferred Congress and the presidency to be controlled by different parties, according to survey by Hart/Teeter for the Wall Street Journal and NBC News.
  • Only 29 percent say it would be better if one party controlled both.

The only people who really oppose gridlock are political scientists and party activists, who decry it as a barrier to "getting things done." A new book by Brookings Institution scholar Sarah Binder, Stalemate, lays out the case against gridlock on these grounds.

The problem is that getting things done is usually a bad thing, says Bartlett.

All of our nation's entitlement programs, for example, were enacted when one party controlled all the elected bodies of the federal government. Social Security came under Franklin Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress in the 1930s, Medicare under Lyndon Johnson and a Democratic Congress in the 1960s, and now a prescription drug entitlement under George Bush and a Republican Congress.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "Bring Back Gridlock," National Center for Policy Analysis, November 25, 2003.


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