News Release

‘We’ are Not Responsible for D.C. Deadlock


THOMAS FERGUSON, thomas.ferguson at
Ferguson is professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a senior fellow of the Roosevelt Institute. He recently wrote the piece, “Memo to New York Times: Data Shows That ‘We’ Are Not Responsible for D.C. Deadlock.” It states: “After this summer’s exhausting budget and debt ceiling follies, everyone who can turn on a TV knows that Congress is sharply polarized along party lines. But most pundits are way off on what causes it.

“A tidal wave of political cash that emerged in the 1970s has washed away the remnants of the old seniority system in Congress, drastically changing the way that body operates. In its place, Congress now uses a system of ‘posted prices’ for selecting who serves on committees and assumes leadership positions. Individual members of Congress compete for key slots by raising enormous amounts of money not only for themselves, but for the national congressional and senatorial campaign committees. These are controlled by Congressional party leaders. The leaders’ control of these committees, along with the vast fixed investments in research, polling, and media capabilities these committees maintain, gives them more leverage over individual Congressmen and women. It makes crossing party lines far more costly than, for example, in the nineteen fifties.

“In dividing so sharply and refusing compromises, Congress is listening primarily to those who contribute political money, not the public. As a political slogan ‘No new taxes’ was around long before the Tea Party. It is the mantra not of the public, but of a huge swath of super-rich Americans. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Warren Buffett readily acknowledges this simple truth. So should reporters who purport to analyze the roots of America’s current political stalemate.”