U.S. Congress at a Standstill Until the Next Election

The British parliamentary system, which has been adopted throughout the Commonwealth, requires the ruling party to resign and call a new election if the opposition defeats a major piece of its policy legislation. America’s “checks and balances” system allows for no such relief. Like a bad Catholic marriage, the major parties remain in unholy deadlock even when they can agree on nothing. The American Constitution does not allow for dissolution of Congress before the appointed time of the next election.

And so we must endure 14 more months of gridlock, recriminations and disastrous inefficiency as the Republicans who control the House of Representatives remain deadlocked with the Democrats who control the Senate and occupy the White House.

Meanwhile, the runaway American economy, which fuels the global financial system,careens wildly out of control, wiping out millions of jobs and sending investors cowering under their beds.

It does no good to point out that the Republicans are more at fault than the Democrats.  Voters will surely punish both come next November.

Consider this excerpt from an AP news story that ran this weekend:

With Congress’ approval ratings already at an all-time low, a tit-for-tat over disaster aid left Republicans and Democrats – and the House and Senate – in a faceoff that’s all too familiar to millions of Americans. Deep partisan disputes pushed the government to the edge of a partial shutdown in April, and to the brink of a debt ceiling crisis in late July.

On Friday, the Democratic-controlled Senate blocked a Republican House bill that would provide stopgap federal spending, plus aid for people battered by hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. The legislation also calls for $1.6 billion in spending cuts to help defray the disaster costs.

Democrats say it’s unprecedented and unfair to require spending cuts to accompany badly needed emergency aid. They are especially unhappy that the GOP measure would tap clean-energy programs credited with creating jobs.

Republicans say that with a $14 trillion-plus national debt, business-as-usual spending is no longer acceptable.

It is obvious that the Republican strategy is to cause as much economic pain as possible in the expectation that voters will blame their distress on President Obama. And the strategy could be successful because most American voters seem to know little about their system of government.

They seem to think the president could have fixed things if he had tried harder. But the way things work, the president is virtually powerless without the cooperation of Congress – and sometimes the Supreme Court.  With the standoff between Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate, the president has become nothing more than a gifted orator touring the country, providing sound bites for television.

We do not know if President Obama’s policies would have reversed the economic free fall the Bush years precipitated. The Republicans have made sure that his polices were blocked or derailed. Perhaps, if voters decide to give Obama another chance and provide him with the support he needs in Congress, we might find out.

Of course, there’s always that third branch of government – the judiciary – to contend with. And you can bet the Supreme Court, stacked as it is with radical right wingers, will do everything it can to prevent progress in America.