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Stalemate: Causes and Consequences of Legislative Gridlockby Sarah A. Binder
Synopses & Reviews
Critics of American politics have long lamented legislative stalemate as an unfortunate byproduct of divided party government, charging that it brings unnecessary conflict, delays, and ineffective policies. Although the term "gridlock" is said to have entered the American political lexicon after the 1980 elections, legislative stalemate is not a modern invention. Alexander Hamilton complained about it more than two centuries ago. In Stalemate, Sarah Binder examines the causes and consequences of gridlock, exploring the ways in which elections and institutions together limit the capacity of Congress and the president to make public law. Binder illuminates the historical ups and downs of policy stalemate by developing an empirical measure to assess the frequency of gridlock each Congress since World War II. Her analysis weaves together the effects of institutions and elections, and shows how both intra-branch and inter-branch conflict shape legislative performance. Binder also explores the consequences of legislative gridlock, assessing whether and to what degree it affects electoral fortunes, political ambitions, and institutional reputations of legislators and presidents alike. The results illuminate what she calls the dilemma of gridlock: Despite ample evidence of gridlock's institutional consequences, legislators lack sufficient electoral incentive to do much about it. Binder concludes that, absent a sufficient motivation for legislators to overcome the dilemma of gridlock and to redress the excesses of stalemate, legislative deadlock is likely to be a recurring and enduring feature of the landscape of national politics and policymaking.By putting conclusions about the politics ofgridlock on a more sure-footed empirical basis, this systematic account will encourage scholars and political observers to rethink the causes and consequence of legislative stalemate.
Book News Annotation:
Reviewing the past 50 years of the history of the U.S. Congress, Binder (governance studies, Brookings Institutions) investigates the frequency of legislative gridlock, seeks institutional causes, and makes recommendations for avoiding future stalemate. She finds that while gridlock has some important institutional implications, not least of which is the lessening of public approval of Congress, there is little electoral consequence to encourage Congress to act on the problem. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Critics of American politics have long lamented legislative stalemate as an unfortunate byproduct of divided party government, charging it brings unnecessary conflict, delays, and ineffective policies. Stalemate examines the causes and consequences of gridlock, exploring the ways in which elections and institutions together limit the capacity of Congress and the president to make public law.
Gridlock is not a modern legislative condition. Although the term is said to have entered the American political lexicon after the 1980 elections, Alexander Hamilton complained about it more than two hundred years ago. In many ways, stalemate seems endemic to American politics. Constitutional skeptics even suggest that the framers intentionally designed the Constitution to guarantee gridlock. In Stalemate, Sarah Binder examines the causes and consequences of gridlock, focusing on the ability of Congress to broach and secure policy compromise on significant national issues. Reviewing more than fifty years of legislative history, Binder measures the frequency of deadlock during that time and offers concrete advice for policymakers interested in improving the institutional capacity of Congress. Binder begins by revisiting the notion of framers intent, investigating whether gridlock was the preferred outcome of those who designed the American system of separated powers. Her research suggests that frequent policy gridlock might instead be an unintended consequence of constitutional design. Next, she explores the ways in which elections and institutions together shape the capacity of Congress and the president to make public law. She examines two facets of its institutional evolution: the emergence of the Senate as a coequal legislative partner of the House and the insertion of political parties into a legislative arena originally devoid of parties. Finally, she offers a new empirical approach for testing accounts of policy stalemate during the decades since World War II. These measurements reveal patterns in legislative performance during the second half of the twentieth century, showing thefrequency of policy deadlock and the legislative stages at which it has most often emerged in the postwar period. Binder uses the new measure of stalemate to explain empirical patterns in the frequency of gridlock. The results weave together the effects of institutions and elections and place in perspective the impact of divided government on legislative performance. The conclusion addresses the consequences of legislative stalemate, assessing whether and to what degree deadlock might affect electoral fortunes, political ambitions, and institutional reputations of legislators and presidents. The results suggest that recurring episodes of stalemate pose a dilemma for legislators and others who care about the institutional standing and capacity of Congress. Binder encourages scholars, political observers, and lawmakers to consider modest reforms that could have strong and salutary effects on the institutional standing and legitimacy of Congress and the president.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 161-194) and index.
Table of Contents
Stalemate in legislative politics — Unintended consequences of constitutional design — Measuring the frequency of stalemate — Institutional and electoral sources of stalemate — What drives legislative action? — Consequences of stalemate.
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