October 16, 2017 - 6:30 PM

Why Gridlock Rules Washington and How We Can Fix It


by Christopher Mungiello

On October 16th, 2017, the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service was honored to have David Jolly, a former U.S. Representative from Florida’s 13th District, and Patrick Murphy, a former U.S. Representative from Florida’s 18th District, speak on the issue of gridlock in Washington. Patrick Yu (SFS '19) introduced Jolly, Murphy, and the discussion moderator, Jill Lawrence, Commentary Editor and Columnist for USA TODAY, and author of the book The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock.

Lawrence began by asking the panelists about the sources of gridlock in Congress. Jolly replied that the three main causes were campaign finance, gerrymandering and district lines, and primary elections. He elaborated that the influence of big money in campaign finance leads to more radical legislation and less centrist thinking. Regarding to gerrymandering and primary elections, he stated that the former insulates representatives from their constituents and makes them less accountable; the latter makes representative beholden to the party and its desires.

Murphy answered the question similarly, but also mentioned the role of the media, the absence of a relationship between Republicans and Democrats, and the use of cameras in the committee room. He explained that, as the media becomes more partisan, so do voters, representatives, and eventually the entire party. The result of the deficit in the amount of stable, bipartisan relationships in Congress can lead to alienation and hostility. Finally, the use of cameras in the committee room can foster less substantial discussion and more pandering to the camera, which can lead to this paradoxical effect by which more transparency with Congressional dealmaking can lead to fewer deals.  

Lawrence then asked about solutions to each of these problems. Murphy and Jolly's responses focused on eliminating excessive donation money from politics, and starting up grassroots movements to take the power of redrawing district lines from the state legislatures and giving it to independent commissions.

Both panelists expressed their understanding that Citizens United v. FEC created a space for all this money to enter into politics; however, there are pieces of legislation that can be passed that can improve the campaign finance situation and these pieces of legislation do not have to bring up the question of Citizens United again. Meanwhile, grassroots movements can be influential because a public referendum to allow an independent commission to draw district lines will lead to fairer districts and more accountability between representatives and their constituents. The former Congressmen then brought up the fact that parties should not make their members spend a significant amount of their time fundraising so that they can focus their attention more on public policy.

The discussion then moved to the influence of Trump in the gridlock process and whether or not he is bridging the divide. Both acknowledged that it is a difficult time to conquer this hyper partisanship, but pointed out that there were times in American history when representatives would literally injury each other over policy, so they expressed belief in the power to overcome partisanship. At the same time however, Murphy and Jolly agreed that Trump had missed his opportunity to bring together the parties and is playing to his base, though they admire the fact that he is relinquishing executive powers to Congress and restoring legislative powers to some degree.

The event then moved to a questions from the audience, which ranged from the emergence of the far left, the issue of seniority, and the overwhelming increase of independent voters amongst millennials. Thank you to all who joined us!

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