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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Justin Schardin and Matthew Weil of the Bipartisan Policy Center, Washington, D.C.
December 18, 2015

Barriers to political compromise are abundant, formidable, but not insurmountable


Polarization, a breakdown in governing norms and lack of a sense of shared responsibility are among the top 10 reasons for the current failure of the policy process, according to Justin Schardin of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). He and his colleague Matthew Weil describe BPC as a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that brings Democrats and Republicans together to come up with proposals that can actually pass legislatively or be implemented by regulators.

Schardin calls polarization as bad today as it's been in over 100 years. There used to be more compromise, Weil says, but now everything is in absolutes, which hurts the policy process. And people are far more likely than they used to be to accept cues on issues from the national parties, even if they don't want to admit it.Schardin adds that fragmentation of the media makes it easy for people to hear messages only from those who agree with them.

A breakdown in governing norms means it's easier to block things than to get things done, Schardin says. Members of Congress now feel very free to use the filibuster and other tactics that previously, except in rare instances, they restrained themselves from using. Weil's project is working with some Senators to reinstate some of the old norms and make them part of the rules, but he says those efforts are running into a lot of resistance.

According to Schardin, getting rid of earmarks has harmed the ability of Congress to get things done. Removing the earmarks took away a "significant weapon" that allowed deals to be made in Congress. Weil points out, though, that despite all the barriers to compromise today, genuine negotiation on both sides of the aisle led to the recent federal budget agreement. He acknowledges that the process and the outcome were not ideal, but says both sides came away feeling they'd gotten something.

For the complete interview summary see: Schardin and Weil Interview

Individual Responses:

Tom Spitznagle
Thanks to communications technology, citizens are more knowledgeable about government and legislation than ever before. Engaged citizens easily pick up on bad legislative proposals and poor government management and pass that information around constantly to a network of friends nationwide whereas in the days of only major network news much of this kind of info was overlooked giving citizens the impression that all was well. Not anymore. There is enough bad legislation to cause many citizens to feel that doing nothing is a better alternative. For example, it is common for politicians to assign some positive sounding label to their massive bills in an attempt to hide what really is in them. Rational citizens see through this unethical ploy and feel that they are intentionally being misled. This could explain why Congress's ratings are so low but citizens still like their reps and reelect them.

Most of the "causes" put forth by the interviewees were really symptoms.

David Durenberger
Thanks for interviewing these dedicated young men from the BPC.

For an elaboration on their comments read Crisis Point, the new Trent Lott-Tom Daschle book
just out. Chapter 25 (p.233 if you’re reading someone else’s book), is Tom on his BPC work
on congressional reform.

Dave Leiser
I enjoyed reading the ideas presented by the people being interviewed for the Civic Caucus articles—important points to ponder.

Vici Oshiro
We'll have much better government when those voting ask the question, "What is best for the country or world?" instead of "What will help me get elected or re-elected?" Unfortunately, I don't have a magic wand to make that change.

Interesting interview, and I guess I'm glad they are attempting to encourage bipartisan cooperation, but don't think they'll get very far until more fundamental issues are addressed. Probably the most important is campaign finance and I don't know what [the] Supreme Court would consider constitutional. Would like to ask Obama if he had any ideas when he mentioned this in [his] State of the Union and looked directly at the justices as if asking for their ideas.

Ralph Brauer
The lack of knowledge of our own history is a major problem and these two are a prime example. Having just finished writing a book on the late nineteenth century their "things have never been so bad" thesis just does not hold. If you are going to solve the problems of the present then you darn well better know something about the past. Enmity in the late nineteenth century was so bad it was common to refer to the times as a second civil war. The years from 1870-1900 are easily the most violent in our history. The gap between rich and poor was the widest it has ever been. I apologize for being so feisty, but I really lose my patience with people who make broad sweeping statements without knowing what they are talking about.

Scott Halstead
Any attempt to bring the left and right together in a bipartisan manner is better than gridlock. I don't like their funding. Their previous work should be analyzed as well as the funding.

Dennis Carlson
Excellent discussion. I agreed with everything they said about earmarking, filibustering, the media, social media and polarization. Very insightful perspective from those two.

Regarding the media I would offer the following. My experience is that local news and local cable treated us very fairly as they had a concern for our community. State and national news went for the salacious, were unconcerned about balanced reporting, and the depth or complexity of an issue was not discussed at all. I did find that the Associated Press did the best job of reporting in a factual way and avoided the polarizing approach.

The social media and political blogs are brutal. Imagine the perspectives that people develop if that is all they read. It is very depressing to find our democracy at this point in history—where government itself is being vilified.

Is it possible that the Civic Caucus could partner with the BPC on an important issue here in Minnesota? I would love to see a bi-partisan effort in creating the World's Best Work Force. That would entail education reform at the high school and college level along with partnering with the private sector. Just a thought —or a dream.

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The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Interview Group  includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (Executive Director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (Chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman




The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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