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Was Bayh’s criticism of Congress on target or unfounded?

February 17, 2010

The decision this week by U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana to not seek re-election this fall has dominated much of the political talk this week.

U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh introduces now-President Barack Obama at a town hall-style meeting at Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind., in August 2008. (AP photo)

Dan Balz with the Washington Post has a good round-up of opinions about whether Bayh was unfair when he characterized Congress as practicing “brain dead” politics and increasing partisanship. Those are common insults hurled at the representatives in the U.S. House and Senate, particularly recently.

Balz talked with David Rohde, a political scientist from Duke University, who made a good point – that leaders in Congress seem to be more interested over the past 15 years in maintaining or regaining control of Congress rather than policy accomplishments.

From the article

Rohde pointed to another and perhaps more critical change that has fundamentally altered the climate in both the Senate and the House: the fragility of control by either party. Since 1994, when Republicans ended 40 years of Democratic domination in the House and retook the Senate, control of both chambers has been at issue in virtually every election.

“Partisan control is extraordinary valuable for both political and policy reasons,” Rohde said. “So every decision [made by lawmakers] has to take into account how it might affect probabilities of majority control. That makes it much more difficult to work across party lines.”

I’m sure Bayh’s frustrations echo what many of his constituents and voters around the country are feeling, though it’s a fair point to say that as true leader, Bayh could have chosen to remain in Congress and try to change that atmosphere rather than abandoning Congress to its partisan ways.

The Louisville Courier-Journal‘s editorial board was critical of Bayh’s decision to depart, in particular the timing of his announcement, in its editorial today. Though calling Bayh’s decision “self-centered,” the editorial says Bayh’s assessment of Congress was right on.

From the editorial

If Sen. Bayh was serious about his complaint that there is too much partisanship in Congress and too little cooperation to find practical solutions to national problems, he might have thought harder about the political consequences of his decision. There is no doubt that Sen. Bayh’s withdrawal puts his seat at risk and may even make it probable that it will move to the GOP column. Sen. Bayh rightly thinks that the current corps of Republicans are ideological, narrow-minded and obstructionist, but can he imagine how they will behave if they become the majority?

That said, Sen. Bayh’s analysis is right.

One things for certain – with Bayh out of this year’s U.S. Senate race in Indiana, that race is going to garner much more attention nationally. With Owensboro in the Evansville, Ind., media market, that means TV programs crowded with political ads – even more so – this fall.

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One Comment
  1. Clint permalink
    February 18, 2010 8:18 am

    We’ve reached the point now, though, that the identity of the party with “control” over a house of Congress just doesn’t matter, as it’s highly unlikely that either party will have a filibuster-proof majority. The minority party will simply threaten to filibuster everything favored by the majority, and nothing will ever get done again.

    Students of history should explore the procedural arguments that paralyzedthe resentative assemblies of France during the economic disaster leading up to the French Revolution. The parallels are astounding.

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