Partisanship and polarization are major issues in today’s congress, as they help to shape the ways in which the institution functions. Mostly gone are the days when the two parties would come together over issues, bridging the gaps in ideology to make compromises. While it does technically still happen on a few occasions, more common is a situation where the two parties go to war, taking sides with few, if any, having the guts to cross over the chasm to reach a hand out to the other side. This is true in committees, in the congressional leadership, and even in the body of rules that governs congress. Partisanship has been caused by a number of factors, and its effects are many, as well.
Partisanship and polarization has contributed to an atmosphere where a great many bills never see the floor of the House or the Senate. Tremendous amounts of legislation are killed in committee, as party forces dictate that certain things are never even brought up for a vote. One of the primary ways that partisanship and polarization work to kill potential legislation is through the power of the people who are in charge of the House and Senate. In the House, for instance, the majority leader has tremendous power to determine what comes up for a vote. Given that the Republicans currently control the House of Representatives, it is very rare that a piece of legislation would come up for a vote unless the majority leader suspected that the Republicans would win the vote. He has the power to keep other types of legislation off of the agenda, and while there are technically ways for the bills to come to a vote, they are difficult and cumbersome for the party that is not in control.
In the Senate, one of the ways that partisanship and polarization affect the political process is through the filibuster rules. Democrats, for the most part, are interested in getting rid of the filibuster because it has been used by Republicans in the Senate as a means of blocking certain appointments by the president and a means of blocking legitimate legislation, too. The filibuster is a device that allows the party without control to put a spike in the wheels of the party with control, and this has become even more relevant as the parties have become more polarized. Today, those things that would have, in the past, been uncontroversial have become points of issue for the parties. For instance, the last six years have brought more attempts to delay presidential appointments than any other point in history, a fact that has been caused by the great split between the two parties.
Grand opposition to President Obama has caused some of the polarization. Some argue that racial forces have played a role in this, and while that may be a difficult argument to articulate, it is clear that many on the Right have made it their mission to oppose any legislation and potential progress of this president. By moving hard to the right, these individuals have drawn a line in the sand, forcing a legitimate gap between themselves and Democrats, and producing an environment where cooperation is all but impossible. Likewise, there exists a very real gap in ideology among many members of the country’s electorate. These individuals different on the role of government, what function it should serve, and how it should go about accomplishing its goals. This partisanship and polarization has made it difficult to pass any legislation, including things that used to be basic. It has also created tremendous consternation among the population, bringing about bigger gaps between voters than the country has seen in a very long time.