The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track

The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track

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by Thomas E. Mann, Norman J. Ornstein, Norman Ornstein

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The Broken Branch offers both a brilliant diagnosis of the cause of Congressional decline and a much-needed blueprint for change. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, two of the nation's most renowned and judicious scholars of government and politics, bring to light the historical roots of Congress's current maladies, examining forty years of uninterrupted…  See more details below


The Broken Branch offers both a brilliant diagnosis of the cause of Congressional decline and a much-needed blueprint for change. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, two of the nation's most renowned and judicious scholars of government and politics, bring to light the historical roots of Congress's current maladies, examining forty years of uninterrupted Democratic control of the House and the stunning midterm election victory of 1994 that propelled Republicans into the majority in both House and Senate. The byproduct of that long and grueling but ultimately successful Republican campaign, the authors reveal, was a weakened institution bitterly divided between the parties. They highlight the dramatic shift in Congress from a highly decentralized, committee-based institution into a much more regimented one in which party increasingly trumps committee. The resultant changes in the policy process-the demise of regular order, the decline of deliberation, and the weakening of our system of checks and balances-have all compromised the role of Congress in the American Constitutional system. From tax cuts to the war against Saddam Hussein to a Medicare prescription drug benefit, the legislative process has been bent to serve immediate presidential interests and has often resulted in poorly crafted and stealthily passed laws. In a new epilogue, the authors examine whether Congress is on the mend, concluding that some elements of dysfunction, like the disappearance of oversight, are now operating with vigor while the culture of corruption has been ameliorated by path-breaking new ethics reforms, but the deliberative process and the regular order that are hallmarks of a functional Congressare not yet in place.

About the Author:
Thomas E. Mann is the W. Averell Harriman Chair and Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution

About the Author:
Norman J. Ornstein is a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Broken Branch...reveals their relationship with the national legislature to be much more profound than mere observation. Frankly, it's love. And they are deeply distressed by Congress's current low esteem. Urging reform at every opportunity, they seem like the loyal spouse of an alcoholic or drug addict, desperately pushing their beloved into rehab."—The New York Times Book Review

"Two of the most knowledgeable congressional scholars."—

"Mann and Ornstein document a litany of abuses so excruciating that their reaction to the impeachment debacle of 1998 is this: 'We didn't think they could sink any lower. We were wrong.' Examples abound. Minority Democrats are routinely given only hours to read the text of thousand-page bills before they're brought up for a vote. Conference committees are stacked exclusively with friendly members. Oversight committees lie dormant and cabinet secretaries treat congressional inquiries with open contempt. Lobbying and pork-barrel spending are at record highs."—Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly

"It is easy to recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Congress, how it works and how it should work."—Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post Book World

"Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein have few peers as Congress watchers, but their affection for this very human institution drives their analyses in The Broken Branch as much as their experience. You don't have to agree with every point in their criticism to feel renewed respect for their lifetime of devotion to helping make the people's branch of government a better functioning and more constructive tribune of the public interest."—U.S. Senator John McCain

"Poll after poll shows a dramatic decline in public esteem for the Congress. In the opinion of many Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, the institution simply does not work. Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein, two of the nation's very finest Congressional scholars, have shown in sharp, clean prose what has gone wrong and why and refreshingly suggest ways to get the First Branch of government back on track. This book is essential reading for Americans concerned about our country and our government."—Thomas S. Foley, Former Speaker of the House

"The Constitution makes the legislative branch Article 1. It precedes the presidency and the judiciary by design. Today the legislative branch is too weak, too dysfunctional, and too out of touch with modern times to fulfill its constitutional duties. Mann and Ornstein understand well the glaring gap between the framers' design and today's reality. The Broken Branch is a serious step toward strengthening the Congress and moving America back toward a more stable and safer system."—Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House

"This book confirms what many of us have long known. Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann are two extremely admired and knowledgeable students of the United States Congress. It is a 'must-read' not only for Members of Congress, but for all Americans who care about the success of this vital institution of our Republic in these troubled times."—Tom Daschle, Former Senate Majority Leader

"If you have ever worried about the declining influence of Congress in American political life, listen up! This timely book is for you. A first-rate, close up story of congressional problems and institutional decline...historically informed, institutionally sophisticated, told by two of Washington's best informed observers of American politics."—Richard F. Fenno, Jr., University of Rochester

"For anyone wondering why they should vote out the Republicans, this book provides the answer."—The Morning Call

"An important new book..."—Cox News Service

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Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
Institutions of American Democracy Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
8.30(w) x 5.70(h) x 1.20(d)

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The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
A-Vaughn More than 1 year ago
This work by two scholars describes how partisanship in America has wrecked Congress.
Guest More than 1 year ago
LIKE DeBakey wielding his scalpel, Mann and Ornstein open the Congressional body politic exposing diseased tissue and malfunctioning organs. They diagnose the top ten or more disorders while expressing a palpable disappointment that members of Congress have disregarded the health of the House and Senate, a neglect which is proving deleterious to the well-being of the nation. Scholars of the first rank and influential consultants to Congress on procedure and protocol, these two ¿grizzled veterans¿ draw upon decades of close observation. They understand the two institutions of Article I better than almost anyone except Byrd. Therefore, when they say Congress is sick and needs rehabilitation, we had better believe it because they advance no partisan agenda other than curing that which ails Congress. And they do so for the sake of the three hundred million. MANY OF THE PROBLEMS afflicting Congress are systemic having become ingrained over time under both Democratic and Republican rule and misrule. But they are worse now (2006) than before. To quote Ornstein and Mann: ¿Republicans have far exceeded Democratic abuses of power.¿ One pivotal problem (during the 2000 to 2006 era) was Congressional abdication of legislative oversight of executive branch functions. The authors state that ¿when George Bush became president oversight largely disappeared.¿ Republicans saw ¿themselves as field lieutenants in the president¿s army¿ and therefore refused to perform the oversight function. The consequences have been the policy disasters of which everyone is aware. It is sometimes argued that Congressional oversight of the President and the bureaucracy is the most important responsibility that Congress has, even superseding its ordinary ¿lawmaking¿ function of designing new programs in response to events and agendas advanced by the President and pressure groups. Placing presidential and bureaucratic activity in the sunlight in order to revise existing law and guidelines and impose new restrictions for the purpose of holding the executive accountable and keeping it in check is more important. To forgo that sacred responsibility is to betray the public trust and deserves electoral retribution. (In the case of Walter Reed Hospital and other veteran facilities, why does America have to rely on Imus as enforcer to get Congress to carry out its oversight function pursuant to the Priest-Hull?) AN IMPORTANT COROLLARY of Republicans taking a furlough from oversight is their tolerance of executive branch secrecy. Again, according the authors, Republicans in the 2000-2006 period went beyond what Democrats had done before in shutting off information to the press, public, and Congress itself. When Democrats in Congress wanted information, executive branch officials and Republican leaders combined to stonewall on issues such as information about the 9/11 attacks, proposed missile defense systems, Abu Ghraib, energy policy meetings with Enron and so on. The information refused listed in the book is extensive and demonstrates Bush¿s ¿aggressive denial of information that Congress thought was essential to its work.¿ Even Republican Senator Grassley, known to average citizens outside the beltway as Mr. Ombudsman and Mr. Integrity, expressed frustration at getting access to information declared off limits by the Bush cabal. Combined, absence of oversight and tolerance of secrecy lay the groundwork for forcing American democracy further from freedom and closer to a creeping authoritarianism that once ingrained would be difficult to reverse. SYMPTOMATIC OF THE OVERALL CARELESSNESS with which Congress has proceeded is the issue of continuity of Congress after a catastrophic terrorist event disabling enough Senators or House members to prevent quorums and doing business. In such a case, martial law would prevail indefinitely until legitimate quorums are assembled. Ornstein and Mann consider this an important issue while majorities in Congress do not.