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Last year it was the debt ceiling negotiations.This year its the fiscal cliff, political pressure on the Federal Reserve, and the complete inability of Congress to pass anything resembling a jobs bill.
Partisan gridlock is the U.S. economy’s biggest problem. Instead of supporting the recovery, in the last couple of years the government has done more to harm it.
The source of that gridlock is the increasing polarization of our electorate and representatives.
An interesting paper by William Galston for Brookings takes a look at the history and prospects for institutional reform. It’s important to realise that part of the source of polarization and gridlock is institutional. Here are some suggestions to start fixing it.
1. Reform the judicial nomination process.
The judicial nomination process has become incredibly partisan, with Presidents attempting to put ideological candidates on the bench, and the Senate holding back the confirmation of even more moderate justices. Galston suggests having a bipartisan commission that generates lists of possible judges, and tying those lists to a fast track approval process to make it more appealing to the executive branch.
2. Change the Congressional redistricting system.
The redistricting process, which varies on a state by state level, is often explicitly partisan. The party is in power attempts to make incumbents as safe as possible and grab as many seats as it can. You end up with elected officials that represent a homogeneous electorate, which results in more extreme candidates and fewer moderates. Redistricting plans have been so politically extreme that they have resulted in lawsuits.
States need to move towards non or bipartisan redistricting commissions, like those in Iowa or Arizona.
3. Promote the participation of the less ideologically extreme
The most partisan and most passionate voters wield outsize influence in the United States, especially when it comes to primary elections. Small groups of committed voters can lead to more extreme candidates, policies, and elected officials. The most effective solution, though politically difficult, would be to move towards mandatory voting.
4. Active review of institutional performance
This suggestion comes from the military, which constantly monitors the performance of its institutions and units. The government should adopt a similar attitude towards its institutions and programs, evaluating them against benchmarks, then working on fixing them if they fall short. Our current system emphasises denial of problems for political purposes, then flurries of argument and finger pointing when anything goes wrong.
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