Stalemate: Causes and Consequences of Legislative Gridlock / Edition 1

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Overview

Gridlock is not a modern legislative condition. Although the term is said to have entered the American political lexicon after the 1980 elections, Alexander Hamilton complained about it more than two hundred years ago.

In many ways, stalemate seems endemic to American politics. Constitutional skeptics even suggest that the framers intentionally designed the Constitution to guarantee gridlock.

In Stalemate, Sarah Binder examines the causes and consequences of gridlock, focusing on the ability of Congress to broach and secure policy compromise on significant national issues. Reviewing more than fifty years of legislative history, Binder measures the frequency of deadlock during that time and offers concrete advice for policymakers interested in improving the institutional capacity of Congress.

Binder begins by revisiting the notion of "framers' intent," investigating whether gridlock was the preferred outcome of those who designed the American system of separated powers. Her research suggests that frequent policy gridlock might instead be an unintended consequence of constitutional design.

Next, she explores the ways in which elections and institutions together shape the capacity of Congress and the president to make public law. She examines two facets of its institutional evolution: the emergence of the Senate as a coequal legislative partner of the House and the insertion of political parties into a legislative arena originally devoid of parties.

Finally, she offers a new empirical approach for testing accounts of policy stalemate during the decades since World War II. These measurements reveal patterns in legislative performance during the second half of the twentieth century, showing the frequency of policy deadlock and the legislative stages at which it has most often emerged in the postwar period.

Binder uses the new measure of stalemate to explain empirical patterns in the frequency of gridlock. The results weave together the effects of institutions and elections and place in perspective the impact of divided government on legislative performance.

The conclusion addresses the consequences of legislative stalemate, assessing whether and to what degree deadlock might affect electoral fortunes, political ambitions, and institutional reputations of legislators and presidents. The results suggest that recurring episodes of stalemate pose a dilemma for legislators and others who care about the institutional standing and capacity of Congress. Binder encourages scholars, political observers, and lawmakers to consider modest reforms that could have strong and salutary effects on the institutional standing and legitimacy of Congress and the president.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this cogent account of the theory and practice of legislating in the American system, Sarah Binder demonstrates that party and bicameralism matter. Binder shows that differences in policy views across institutions might slow the enactment of new law, force compromise, or even produce stalemate. If she's right, and I think she is, then every American who cares about the quality of national governance must understand her argument and evidence." —Steven S. Smith, Washington University in St. Louis, 2/1/2003

"One way to analyze lawmaking is to see how many bills pass as a proportion of proposals seriously considered. This book carries out that logic exceptionally well. Along the way it offers many nice insights about bicameralism, the Senate, the Clinton era, and in general the whys and wherefores of legislating. For students of Congress the book is a must-read." —David R. Mayhew, Yale University, 2/1/2003

" Stalemate: Causes and Consequences of Legislative Gridlock is a persuasive and innovative book and it is this reader's hope that it will be a launching point for a new avenue of research on U.S. federal policy making." —Wendy J. Schiller, Brown University, Congress & The Presidency, 9/1/2003

"In this superb book, Sarah Binder addresses several questions that are central to contemporary scholarship about American national government.... This brief volume is a major addition to the scholarly literature about lawmaking, and thus merits sustained attention from scholars and graduate students.... Stalemate is a remarkable book." —C. Lawrence Evans, College of William and Mary, Perspectives on Politics, 3/1/2004

"... don't be misled by the size of the book. Binder has produced a deep and insghtful work that ranges from the views and expectations of the Framers to the unexpected development of an activist and vibrant Senate and the rising role of parties to the contemporary Congress, offering a slew of hypotheses about what stalemate is, when and why it occurs, and a creative and rich data analysis of more than five decades of congressional performance with which to test them.... This is a fine book filled with insights: a case study in careful, systematic, and nuanced research that should be read by anyone interested in legislatures and in policy making generally." —Norman J. Ornstein, The American Enterprise Institute, Political Science Quarterly, 4/1/2004

"Binder makes a solid contribution to a continuing scholarly discussion of the causes and consequences of legislative stalemate." —R. E. Dewhirst, Northwest Missouri State University, Choice, 11/1/2003

"Using 54 years of institutional, electoral, partisan, and policy material, Sarah Binder has written a commanding study of the incidence, the explanation, and the consequences of divided government and bicameral deadlock in Congress. Innovative in its exploratory range and its explanatory precision, Stalemate is contemporary political science at its very best. It is a 'must-read' book for all who wonder and worry about the performance and possibilities of our national policymaking institutions.

" —Richard Fenno, Distinguished University Professor and Kenan Professor of Political Science, University of Rochester, 2/1/2003

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815709114
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 202
  • Sales rank: 1,001,088
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 9.16 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Binder is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and an associate professor of political science at George Washington University. Her previous books include Minority Rights, Majority Rule: Partisanship and the Development of Congress (Cambridge University Press, 1997) and (with Steven S. Smith) Politics or Principle: Filibustering in the United States Senate, (Brookings, 1997).

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
1 Stalemate in Legislative Politics 1
2 Unintended Consequences of Constitutional Design 12
3 Measuring the Frequency of Stalemate 34
4 Institutional and Electoral Sources of Stalemate 57
5 What Drives Legislative Action? 84
6 Consequences of Stalemate 106
App. A Measuring Stalemate 135
App. B Measuring Bicameral Differences 140
App. C Alternative Specifications 149
App. D Comparison to Mayhew, Divided We Govern 152
App. E Data for Replication 155
Notes 161
Index 195
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