Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

To End Gridlock - Empower the Parties

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

To End Gridlock - Empower the Parties

Article excerpt

RECENT actions by congressional leaders raise old questions about the relationship between Congress and the president, and the role political parties play in that relationship.

In the House, majority leaders Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri and majority whip David Bonior (D) of Michigan are opposing the North American Free Trade Agreement, one of the keystones of the Clinton administration program.

In the Senate, minority leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas has been trying to assert a congressional role in sending US troops abroad. So has majority leader Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia.

Question: Must the leaders of the president's party in Congress support the president's program? If so, should Congress be considered an independent branch of government? If not, to whom does the president turn to help implement his program?

Question: Is foreign policy bipartisan, with Congress rallying behind the president? Or may Congress debate it?

When the party system is superimposed on the system of separate presidential and congressional powers, each system interferes with the other. Neither works very well. That is a principal cause of gridlock in Congress.

Something is wrong with a system that permits one party to control the House for 40 years while the Senate and the presidency are competitive. Other problems include fund-raising excesses, disproportionate influence of individual interest groups, diffusion of power in Congress, proliferation of subcommittees, more jurisdictional squabbles, and weaker leadership.

None of these problems can be helped by the tinkering suggested by Ross Perot and others. Term limits for members of Congress, the line-item appropriations veto for the president, and a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget would not do any good either. They would make things worse.

What is needed are stronger party organizations in Congress, in the states, and in congressional districts.

IIf we are going to rewrite the Constitution, we should install some modification of the parliamentary system. A key element would be to empower Congress to remove the president in mid-term. …

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