Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Why Adding a Party Will Not Reduce Gridlock

There are many people out there who blame gridlock on the two party system. "If only there were a viable third party," they cry, "then we could get Congress to do what really needs to be done."

But will adding another party change things? Suppose we add a third party to the left of the Democrats (the Green option). Suppose further that it is wildly successful and manages to get a a quarter of the seats in the House at the expense of the Democrats. The Republicans have roughly half of the seats and the Greens and the Democrats together have roughly half the seats. Suppose that in the Senate the Greens manage to get a few seats, again at the expense of Democrats, but the Republicans retain roughly half. In this scenario, all that has been done is that the left of both houses of Congress has been divided, forcing a compromise between the Greens and Democrats prior to any attempt to get bills passed. In short, this has added yet another bargaining step to the legislative process. This will make changes smaller, less frequent and slower to enact.

Suppose we add a party in the middle (the Ross Perot/Jesse Ventura option). In this situation, the party in the middle might become a kind of legislative king maker. However, it would require that either the Democrats or Republicans would have to make a deal with the middle party to get things passed.

Both of these scenarios leave out the President who has a veto. Adding a third party to Presidential competition is extremely unlikely so long as we continue to have a single individual serve as president (I can elaborate upon request). Suppose the Democrats and Greens (or Middle party) strike a deal and pass a new law. The Republican President vetos the bill and the Republicans in Congress are still strong enough to preserve the veto.

What really brings on our gridlock is not the number of parties (actually two parties is about as good an environment as you can hope for if you want to minimize gridlock and still preserve democracy). Rather our multi-stage legislative procedure is the root of gridlock. For a bill to become a law, it must gain at least a majority in the House and Senate (often a 3/5 majority in the Senate if one party is willing to filibuster) pluss the consent of the President. That is effectively a tri-cameral legislative process. The only times this is circumvented and gridlock goes away is in the unlikely event of a single, unified party gaining control of all three.

Adding more parties will not change this. It could make it worse.


USwest said...

RBR is correct. In addition, the machinations within each House of Congress also slow the process. The committees have to vet legislation, often altering it. This is why you get perfectly good bills weighed down with pork and irrelevant clauses, such as attaching an increase in minimum wage to a defense spending bill. This is how Congresspeople attempt to get around the process. Then you see a veto delivered because of one of these clauses rather than the principle legislation itself. Or you get the reverse, such as Clinton signing the 1997 Communications Bill.

Dr. Strangelove said...

If these remarks were inspired by comments on the previous post, let me point out that in my comments I did not suggest we should add any third parties to the current system in the US (historically, those do not seem to last) but rather to change the system so third parties were a stable solution.

Raised By Republicans said...

Changing the system so that third parties are a stable solution is not a solution and that is my ponit.

Let's assume we gut the Constitution and adopt a parliamentary, unicameral system for passing laws (something that would never happen - thank goodness). If we then also change the electoral system to allow more parties (say we adopt the Irish electoral system of STV), we could have just as much gridlock as we have now. Shifting coalitions and unstable governments (see pre-reform Italy or Denmark now) are a function of gridlock in parliamentary systems.

What would really solve the gridlock problem you not increase the number of parties but keep them at two! Then you would change the legislative system to be a unicameral system like in the U.K. But then you'd have exactly the kind of tyrrany of the majority that our Founding Fathers were so worried out (and rightly so! Just ask any Northern Irish Catholics who were detained without trial for years).

Dr. Strangelove said...

I am interested in the research you refer to about how parliamentary systems show no greater propensity to enact useful legislation than ours. If that's true then your point is made and that's about all there is to it.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I tend to agree with RBR. Increasing party cohesion in the USA (i.e., reducing the number of effective parties) would probably lead to better legislative outcomes.

USWest said...

I will point to history.

France in the 3rd and 4th Republic was paralyzed due to too many parties. This was a big contributing factor to its defeat in WWII and why DeGaulle was so successful in setting the 5th Republic with strong presidential powers. The nation was paralyzed and could not keep a prime minister. It was like Italy today. The French call it the tyranny of parties.

Raised By Republicans said...

Another more recent example. German welfare reform has been blocked despite large parliamentary majorities in favor some kind of reforms for years by small leftist parties (the Greens and the PDS/Die Linke). Only when the two biggest parties (the SPD adn CDU) formed a Grand Coalition and complete shut out all the little parties has any move towards reform been possible.

USWest said...

Ah, and yet another example not of paralysis, but crafty game playing.
I am catching up on my Economist. I was interested in a recent article on Sarkozy's crafty methods. He has put several moderate Socialists in high government positions, thus co-opting the opposition. This has further weakened the already weakened Left. I wonder if such a thing would work here and what would happen.

Imagine if you get a Democrat in office who gives some of the moderate Republicans positions in the cabinet or as advisers, sort of like Clinton did with William Cohen. Would is create greater partisanship or reduce it?

I think what Sarkozy is doing is dangerous in a couple of ways. The first is that by nearly destroying the opposition you risk either negative backlash by the public, or a dangerous democratic crisis. In another way, what he is doing is fair. He has appointed a couple of the Socialists to the Committee for Constitutional reform. If you are considering a 6th Republic, you had better have representatives from across the political spectrum. For the Socialists to try and punish its members from accepting those positions is folly. What will happen is the party will be split in two, with those who served in government on one side, and those opposed such things on the other. In other words, the more liberal wing of the Left will be separated from the more moderate wing. This is a weird possibility when you consider that the Socialists ran on a pretty moderate platform.

Raised By Republicans said...

What Sarkozy did happens quite frequently here. Kennedy kept many of Eisenhower's security and intelligence appointees on - most especially Dulles at CIA.

Most Presidents have done this by apponiting members of the opposite party to their Cabinet. Clinton did a lot of this. Most famously, he brought in Daniel Gergen (a Republican) for his White House staff.

I don't think George II Bush has done this much though.

Anonymous said...

I think you guys assume we are currently represented by a two party system and it just isn't true...we have a party and a half at best. Our Congress is a country club and this is a mild dictatorship we are living under...if not, why haven't impeachment proceddings begun? You guys sugar coat stuff in to much academia and don't forget, the Economist is written by people in government, so it will be biased..that's for you US West.