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Politics

Insiders Split on Virtue of Divided Government

July 28, 2011

Republicans feel that their new majority in the House of Representatives is an important check on what they view as the excesses of the previous two years when both chambers of Congress and the White House were in Democratic hands. "We saw what the Democrats did with full control of all three levers of Government: an extreme agenda on spending and programs that caused serious backlash and brought in the GOP House," said one Republican Congressional Insider. "We cannot go back to the [Nancy] Pelosi dictatorship and 'iron rule,'" said another referring to the former Democratic Speaker who muscled legislation through the House. Added a third GOP Congressional Insider, "Parties get too arrogant when they control all branches."

Even some Republicans who said divided government was "good," acknowledged the challenges it presents. "It requires politicians to compromise," noted one GOP congressional Insider. "That is hazardous to one's political survival these days." Added another, "Good in theory, not always good in practice."

A handful of Republican Members said divided government was "bad" given the intense partisanship that grips Capitol Hill. "Every Congress it gets a little worse," said one GOP Congressional Insider. "It is more and more difficult to find common ground."

But another Republican Member countered that divided government generates plenty of friction it may be the only way to achieve tough political goals. "It's the only way to put sacred cows on the table as hamburger," said one Congressional Insider.

Democratic Members were dubious, especially in the current political environment which is often characterized by gridlock. "You gotta be kidding," said one Democratic Congressional Insider. "What about the 112th Congress is not clear?" Another Democrat observed: "Too much male chicken game going on here: the old timers used to work it out. Now, the show horses are in charge."

Regardless of its downsides, Democrats who thought divided government was a plus thought the alternative of a unified GOP government was worse. "If Republicans controlled everything it would be a total disaster," said one Democratic Insider. "Can you imagine how bad things could be if the tea party controlled everything?" asked another. "Pre-WWII Italy comes to mind!"

And a portion of Democrats thought divided government could be a good thing, just not these days. "If the two sides in a divided government are committed to working to build consensus and find the 'middle' on difficult issues, that divided government has the potential to be very good," said one Democratic Congressional Insider. "That dynamic is not the one we're witnessing today." Echoed another, "There are times when divided government has moderated excesses and produced a positive policy blend. At present, however, with deep polarization and the Republicans beholden to their most extreme elements, it is dysfunctional and dangerous."

The National Journal Congressional Insiders Poll is a regular anonymous survey of Democratic and Republican members of Congress.

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