Congress and the Politics of Problem Solving

December 10, 2012

Dec. 13, 2012                     Scott Adler

With the fiscal cliff looming and the apparent inability of Congress to agree on a budget the past several years, many see Congress as an institution consumed by partisan bickering and gridlock.

Not so, according to a new book co-authored by political science professors Scott Adler from CU-Boulder and John D. Wilkerson from the University of Washington. According to Adler, Congress’s long history of addressing significant societal problems – even in recent years – seems to contradict this view.

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Congress and the Politics of Problem Solving

Dec. 13, 2012                                   Scott Adler

With the fiscal cliff looming and the apparent inability of Congress to agree on a budget the past several years, many see Congress as an institution consumed by partisan bickering and gridlock.

Not so, according to a new book co-authored by political science professors Scott Adler from CU-Boulder and John D. Wilkerson from the University of Washington. According to Adler, Congress’s long history of addressing significant societal problems – even in recent years – seems to contradict this view.

CUT 1 “Congress does get things done, Congress does govern and that frequently means sort of the meat and potatoes of law making ensures that legislation dealing with transportation or education or farming or the environment, eventually gets passed.” (:22)

Called “Congress and the Politics of Problem Solving,” Adler says the book shows how a simple premise – voters are willing to hold lawmakers accountable for their collective problem-solving abilities – can produce novel insights into legislative organization, behavior and output.

CUT 2  “We look at bills introduced, we look at legislation passed, we look at committees and their jurisdictions and how they change. (:09) We look at elections and how elections serve as motivators for members of congress to maintain and update critical legislation -- legislation that’s important to constituents.” (:22)

In regards to the fiscal cliff deadline, Alder says Congress uses deadlines as a way to insure that legislation gets passed.

CUT 3 “They’re meant to induce bargaining, induce compromise between Democrats and Republicans, induce compromise between the president and Congress or between the two chambers – the House and Senate. (:12) The hope though is, of course, that they do come to some kind of agreement. And the potential with all of these elements of the fiscal cliff wrapped together, the potential is for some sort of grand bargain.” (:24)

In researching the book, Adler says the one thing that really surprised him and his co-author is how productive Congress is.

CUT 4 “It did surprise us that Congress was as productive as it seems to be from year to year. We constantly hear about gridlock or do nothing Congresses.  Even this current Congress, the 112 th Congress, is often being referred to as a low productivity Congress or a do nothing legislative body. (:24) But it turns out it’s not quite as bad as that, we just don’t talk very much about the accomplishments when they don’t involve a lot of disagreement, a lot of rank or a lot of conflict.” (:34)

Adler says to write the book they researched legislation passed by Congress since the end of World War Two.

-CU-

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