Cyr column: News flash: Washington is guaranteed to be in conflict
The current gridlock in Congress is frustrating for Democrats who support the extremely expansive domestic spending legislation of President Joe Biden. Note: not all Democrats do back this latest big spending blowout.
The White House strives to exploit the situation with the public, but so far, the nation at large is not buying what is being peddled to them. The distinctive economic and political circumstances that permitted Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson to succeed with ambitious legislative agendas simply do not exist today.
In Virginia, the strong growing support for relatively unknown political newcomer Glenn Youngkin, Republican candidate for governor, is one indication of this. He has come from behind to close a large gap with Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe. The latter’s long-time career as a Democratic fundraiser and fixer works against him now.
President Biden’s low and sinking poll numbers and inability so far to inspire broad active public support is a principal problem. Perceived fumbling and ineffectiveness are greatly compounded by the disastrously mishandled United States withdrawal from Afghanistan.
American citizens, along with a large population of Afghans who helped us, remain behind in that beleaguered country. We deserted our friends along with fellow Americans. Biden’s self-righteous self-defense has only further weakened his public support, rightly.
Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have gained prominence, gathered influence, and are taking heat from other Democrats as well as biased media for their opposition to the White House agenda. In the evenly divided 50-50 Senate, their opposition has proven so far decisive.
Yet stalled legislative agendas and rancorous partisanship are nothing new. An instructive, telling example is the retirement of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). His September 2015 announcement stunned everyone, including friends and allies. Boehner concluded an especially difficult tour of service in the top leadership post.
Boehner as Speaker was a partisan Republican but also a dedicated legislator. He has rightly taken pride in getting the job done. That meant compromise on occasion with Democrats while working simultaneously to hold together increasingly fractious House Republicans.
In 2013, Republicans managed to shut down the government as part of the effort to derail the Affordable Care Act. Democrats led by President Barack Obama used this to political advantage. Boehner’s decision made another shutdown less likely.
The practice of holding the federal budget hostage to controversial partisan maneuvers has now gone on for many years. In 1994, Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives after forty years in minority status. Their majority was led by new Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who dramatically accelerated the trend of shifting that office from a relatively nonpartisan to highly partisan pulpit.
Then as now, White House Democrats and Congressional Republicans played an escalating game of budgetary chicken. The federal government was shut down briefly. In the political and public media maneuvering, President Bill Clinton gained politically by skillfully putting the onus on the Gingrich Republicans.
Democrat Sam Rayburn of Texas remains the longest-serving Speaker of the House. From the 1940s into the 1960s, he successfully practiced bipartisanship, despite the challenging politics of that era.
Rayburn possessed exceptional political skills, but also, today intense partisanship more clearly separates political parties lacking conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. Additionally, our partisan, pervasive media raise the political temperature.
However, there is nothing new about the challenge of managing Congress.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact email@example.com.