That brings us to the 112th Congress. House Republicans are adamant about refusing to compromise with the president, and are able in most instances to make good on the threat. When they are not able to maintain this unity, they are simply unwilling to bring up or pass measures that would lose significant GOP votes and require as many or more Democrats in support. This is a formula for gridlock, or worse. is the Republicans are simply declining to govern.
We have seen problems emerge on more issues than the fiscal issues now before Congress. For instance, the painful effort to find broad bipartisan support for three significant trade agreements that are clearly in America's national interest, including its economic and diplomatic interest (and which first had to overcome substantial Democratic opposition), have been thwarted of late by Republicans' refusal to negotiate with the president over a much more minor issue of implementing trade adjustment assistance.
Political tactics to provoke confrontation, during a time when the permanent campaign reigns supreme and the competition for majorities in both houses is fierce, have combined with the rise of partisan media, one with far more reach and immediacy than the partisan press that thrived in the 19th century. When a phalanx of conservative media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal editorial page to talk radio and blogs, chimes in that breaching America's debt limit would at worst be benign and at best could actually do the country some good, and are joined by presidential candidates like Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty in those messages, it encourages the confrontationalists to ignore the reality that damaging the full faith and credit of the United States will cause long-lasting economic turmoil at home and abroad.
Partisan and ideological conflict is inherent in democratic political systems, of course, and governing is often a messy process. But this level of dysfunction is not typical. And it is not going away in the near future. The 2012 elections are sure to bring very close margins in both houses of Congress, and even more ideological polarization; the redistricting process now underway in the House is targeting some of the last few Blue Dog Democrats in places like North Carolina and enhancing the role of primary elections on the Republican side, which will pull candidates and representatives even further to the right.
The Framers saw deliberation, institutional loyalty, and compromise as the only way to produce sensible and legitimate policy decisions in an extended republic. Many Republicans, especially former office holders, understand this. Many of the party's current members surely would prefer to solve problems, if the culture and atmosphere -- and the primary process that gives inordinate power to both parties' ideological bases -- did not make it so hard to do so. But there is little chance that a suitable climate for compromise and bipartisanship will take hold anytime soon -- meaning that we can look forward to more headaches ahead at home and abroad.