The Politics of Gridlock

Voters are frustrated at congressional gridlock, but that may not translate into universal support for Congress to do more.A nonpartisan, grassroots group called No Labels wants to bust congressional gridlock. No Labels has gained prominence and thousands of supporters by calling for "No Budget, No Pay" legislation.

Ron Shaich, founder and CEO of Panera Bread, touted No Labels in a speech to the Oregon Business Association Statesman Dinner last week. He said if Congress can't approve a federal budget before a new fiscal year starts, then congressmen shouldn't get a paycheck. Shaich called No Budget, No Pay legislation a positive incentive to end gridlock.

While Congress generally is held in low public esteem, polls also indicate not everyone is eager to end gridlock. A nationwide Reason-Rupe poll this fall indicated 50 percent of its 1,006 respondents wanted Congress to pass fewer laws.

The same Reason-Rupe poll showed 72 percent of GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney's supporters wanted fewer laws passed by Congress, contrasted to only 22 percent of President Obama supporters. A separate ABC poll produced similar findings, suggesting frustration with gridlock may itself be a partisan issue.

Under the banner of "Stop Fighting, Start Fixing," No Labels offers 12 ways to reduce gridlock. All but No Budget, No Pay legislation could be implemented by Congress itself. The suggestions include:

       • Confirming presidential appointees on an up-or-down vote within 90 days;

       • Make senators actually speak when they filibuster;

       • Allow a majority of members in either the House or Senate to override a leader or committee chair decision to bottle up a bill; 

       • Require an annual fiscal report delivered live to Congress, so everyone operates on the same facts; and

       • Implement schedules so Members of Congress can work at home and vote in DC.

In his OBA speech, Shaich praised Oregon political leaders for their collaborative spirit, which included a historic power-sharing agreement in 2011 and 2012 when the Oregon House was evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

The OBA Statesman Dinner punctuated the point by honoring 11 Oregonians who played a key role in passage and early implementation of health transformation policies. Unlike the bitter national debate over the Affordable Care Act, Oregon lawmakers approved legislation to created coordinated care organizations, viewed as a critical step for improving the quality of care and avoiding wasteful spending.

Congressional legislative activism follows a predicable partisan pattern, according to the Reason-Rupe poll. "This probably explains why 77 percent of those who want fewer laws believe income inequality is an acceptable part of the economic system," says Emily Ekins, director of polling for the Reason Foundation, "compared to 56 percent of those who want more laws and believe government needs to fix income inequality."

"In sum," Ekins adds, "congressional discontent is not a license to plow through gridlock to pass more legislation. Compromise means different things to different people."

The nonpartisan, grassroots group No Labels wants to bust congressional logjams on the budget, presidential appointments and fights over fiscal facts.