Congress is the first branch of government in the American
system, write Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, but now
it is a broken branch, damaged by partisan bickering and
internal rancor. The Broken Branch offers both a brilliant
diagnosis of the cause of Congressional decline and a
much-needed blueprint for change, from two experts who
understand politics and revere our institutions, but believe
that Congress has become deeply dysfunctional.
Mann and Ornstein, two of the nations most renowned and
judicious scholars of government and politics, bring to
light the historical roots of Congresss current maladies,
examining 40 years of uninterrupted Democratic control of
the House and the stunning midterm election victory of 1994 that
propelled Republicans into the majority in both House and
Senate. The byproduct of that long and grueling but
ultimately successful Republican campaign, the authors
reveal, was a weakened institution bitterly divided between
the parties. They highlight the dramatic shift in Congress
from a highly
decentralized, committee-based institution into a much more
regimented one in which party increasingly trumps committee.
The resultant changes in the policy process--the demise of
regular order, the decline of deliberation, and the
weakening of our system of checks and balances--have all
the role of Congress in the American Constitutional system.
Indeed, Speaker Dennis Hastert has unabashedly stated that
his primary responsibility is to pass the president's
legislative program--identifying himself more as a
lieutenant of the president than a steward of the house.
From tax cuts to
the war against Saddam Hussein to a Medicare prescription
drug benefit, the legislative process has been bent to serve
immediate presidential interests and have often resulted in
poorly crafted and stealthily passed laws. Strong majority
leadership in Congress, the authors conclude, led not to a
vigorous exertion of congressional authority but to a
general passivity in the face of executive power.
A vivid portrait of an institution that has fallen far from
the aspirations of our Founding Fathers, The Broken Branch
highlights the costs of a malfunctioning Congress to
national policymaking, and outlines what must be done to
repair the damage.