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PRELUDE

Learn the reasons how and why we got our Combative Congress – right down to the root causes.
Understand pivotal changes badly needed. Ages 16-90.

What makes this book unique?

Combative Congress addresses a serious and complex topic in ways that make reading it pleasant. This nonpartisan book’s appeal stretches from a high school student to a professor, from a young housewife to a retired chemical engineer, and more. It was written to be concise and readable with a little humor thrown in for free.

What will the reader take away from this book?

How Congress over several decades became two parties so focused on dominating one another that animosity and infighting have replaced productive bipartisan problem solving, and

That the American Congress is quite the exception among important countries in having only two influential parties and therefore is a poor climate for civil negotiation, and

That the two parties have created and protected electoral systems that prevent competition, but that these can be fixed.

Congress’s approval rating is stuck around 20%. Why? The PROBLEM is that our see-saw-between-parties Congress is not fulfilling its responsibilities. Why? Only logical digging to the root causes of the Congressional infighting permits attacking causes rather than symptoms.

This handbook on Congress explores why, how, and when our warring parties have ensured that we have a duopoly while most other important countries have an average of 3.9 effective parties. Having more than two parties promotes dialog, compromise, and problem solving. This non-partisan book develops the pivotal changes required to repair our dysfunctional Congress. – in a concise read with numerous beautiful color photographs by the author and color graphics.

Benjamin Franklin said we have “a republic, if you can keep it.

NY Harbor and the Statue of Liberty in a Beautiful Sunset – America!

INTRODUCTION

Note: This website Introduction is a fraction of the book, so it does not contain most of the analysis, determination of root causes dysfunction, and the solutions.

National constitutions have lasted an average of only 17 years since 1789. Our republic’s Constitution has lasted over 230 years! However, it is no secret that a huge percentage of the populace is increasingly worried that we have lost the ability and fortitude to formulate and implement solutions to serious problems. A symptom of this is gridlock, but attacking symptoms is futile; one must dig down to the root causes to solve problems.

In 2014, about 95% of incumbent congressional candidates were returned to office, but the approval rate for Congress was around 14%. How in the world can that be? The simple answer is that we have broken electoral systems.

So, we have a problem. What do we do about it? We citizens need to be problem solvers and stimulate change! Congress must reclaim some of its prestige and powers to balance our federal government better. What are the root causes and solutions for our combative Congress?

This book’s mission is to answer that question!

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
— Albert Einstein.

TWO PARTIES

“Political parties are essential to democratic governance … America’s system was designed to operate in an environment where most factions would be ephemeral, developing over issues and then dissolving when those issues faded or were somehow resolved.” Adapted from The Role of Political Parties in Preventing Congress from Functioning, Dennis R. Bullock, Real Clear Policy.

Our two-party system is a cause for polarization – which is a cause for congressional dysfunction. America should have more than two parties! Essentially all the world’s leading democracies except the U.S. have more parties with an average of 3.9 (see graph below). This has been shown to provide more viewpoints, negotiation, and problem-solving. Why do we have only two parties that have degenerated into a permanent gladiatorial relationship? Having only two parties isn’t the root cause of Congress’s dysfunction. We must dig down to the root causes of our duopoly.

Results

  • Two combative parties
  • The very slimmest of majorities are enacting many massive laws of major consequence, a recipe for continued dissension.
  • Huge pieces of legislation cover many topics as a tool to suppress dissenting points of view and pass partisan, extreme, and weakly supported ideas.
  • Strong party influence in electoral methods has led to the common use of many other non-proportional electoral methods in selecting our candidates, including first-past-the-post/winner-take-all primaries and elections, runoffs that are usually very poorly attended, and the lack of ways for voters to indicate choices other than their first preference.
  • Gerrymandering of the single-member districts led to around 80-90% safe seats.
  • Many voters do not have anyone in Congress for whom they have voted.
  • “…in the 115th Congress, every member of the U.S. House belonged to one of the two major parties, leaving minor-party voters and those dissatisfied with major-party policy positions with the unenviable choice of voting their conscience – and in all likelihood, wasting their vote – or holding their noses and voting for one of the two major parties.” And “…the composition of Congress lags behind the growing diversity of the American electorate.” Both comments are from a 2020 William and Mary Law Review.
  • Virtually no chance of another party arising.
  • Dramatic and disruptive swings in policies and legislation when power shifts from one party to the other, making it almost impossible for citizens and businesses to plan their lives.
  • A decline in international respect.
  • Disenfranchisement, distrust, and disgust among voters. A feeling of helplessness.

Madison said, “Different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power… have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity.” The crisis comes when the state is “violently
heated and distracted by the rage of party.” In his famous farewell address, Washington warned America about “the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities.” President Adams spoke, “A division of the republic into two great parties…is to be dreaded as the great political evil.

Our Founding Fathers had anticipated many issues, protecting against their maturing to severe problems with checks and balances among the three branches of government. But they did not include anything explicitly dealing with the present two-party standoff within the legislative branch in the Constitution. Our current two-party system fosters two opposed points of view – the Mexican standoff!

Congress is not doing its job well. Of course, we would like Congress to do an outstanding job, tackling and solving our significant issues – and others, too – on a timely basis and in ways satisfactory to most voters. In any effort to make corrections, we must guard diligently against the common temptation to work on symptoms rather than root causes.

My grandfather clock was created about the same time as our nation. Tender loving care and good maintenance have it keeping time within an average of one minute per week.

Congress deserves the same attention.

POLARIZATION

It is only to be expected that competition will exist among intelligent and ambitious people. But, when relationships deteriorate to the point that they can be characterized by animosity and discord, damage is being done to the organization – Congress. Few would disagree that differences in recent years have led to unusually bitter and dysfunctional feelings among members. This is occurring both between and within the two political parties. Why?

Polarization in Congress is a huge problem, but it is baked into the cake. It is the product of our electoral systems. Our system of having only two parties is very much the exception for important nations, making a case that our zero-sum/winner-takes-all two-party system is a big reason for our difficulties. Of course, extreme friction in Congress spills over into the media and the public.

Moderates in Congress in 1951 were by party 44 and 41% Vs. 11 and 6% in 2018. WOW!

Trust in the federal government had dropped from 73% in 1964 to 17% in 2018. WOW again!

The single-member districts in the House play a crucial and negative role. Congress passed legislation in 1967 that mandated single-member districts nationwide. The political parties have meticulously carved out these districts. They have deliberately drawn the boundaries so that two parties of remarkably similar sizes end up dominating most of these districts. It’s mind-boggling to realize that a staggering 80-90% of these districts are deemed “safe seats,” meaning that a particular party advances to the general election and wins it. Consequently, the parties have become obsessed with inflicting maximum damage upon their opponents, making winning their utmost priority.

Of the 50 states, 37 are ruled by a single party, meaning both houses of their legislatures plus the governor’s office. This makes them one-party states. Many are genuinely one-party because a preponderance of their people is conservative or liberal. Others have their elections influenced by their electoral methods. In any case, control by one party leads to less negotiation or compromise in state governments and can result in radical positions and laws. It sounds an awful lot like our federal government. This is no accident because
similar electoral methods and the same passion for dominating politics and winning the “game” exist throughout the nation, because state lawmakers often rise to federal office, and last – but not least – because there are only two influential parties throughout the country making legislating a zero-sum game; each one is either winning big-time or losing big-time. There should be a pathway for competent problem solvers to have rewarding political careers without participating in constant battle.

Let’s return to polarization. Is polarization originating in our federal and state legislatures or the populace? Well, which came first, the chicken or the egg? It doesn’t matter. One feeds on the other. More civil politics would be a huge step in reducing polarization in America.

Remember what Pogo said: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.

… under our current electoral methods. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Evidence – Major Problems Not Being Solved by Our Congress

  • Failure to solve the US immigration issues.
  • Failure to stop the drug-related crisis.
  • Failure to tackle guns-related violence.
  • Failure in fiscal matters, including budgeting, deficit spending, and a high percentage of overall spending on autopilot.
  • Failure to provide for the fiscal viability of major programs, including Social Security and Medicare.
  • Failure to stem the flow of congressional powers to the Executive and Judicial Branches.
  • Failure to develop a professional, comprehensive, and long-term plan for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions—the largest project America and the world have ever faced.
  • Failure to use regular order and procedures that worked well in the past.
  • Failure to allow fair competition from more than two parties.

NON-PROPORTIONAL VOTING

Primary vote requirements by state

The map and table below detail primary election vote requirements by state, 39 of which do not require a majority in primary elections. This means that a candidate can win the primary election with less than a majority and advance to the general election to compete for what is likely to be a safe seat.

Closed party primaries are the funnel, gateway, or chute to the general election.

COMPETITION

This chute – the closed and partisan party primary – is a primary (pun intended) genesis of our having just two parties more interested in winning each fracas than in solving problems of the country. Each of our two parties nominates a candidate, these candidates compete in the general election, and one of them wins. A system these two parties created and protect. More competition is badly needed.

CONCLUSION

Gallup has measured American confidence in major U.S. Institutions annually since 1993. See their June 2022 results below.

The sun has set on many countries, including the Soviet Union. Don’t let it happen here!

Our problem with Congress is simple compared with putting a man on the moon!