Two-Step Plan to End 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

By Kenneth Jost
Associate Editor
      The White House and congressional leaders have reached an accord for a two-step repeal of the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. But the plan, accepted by gay rights groups, still faces uncertain prospects in pivotal votes later this week.
      Under the compromise reached in a White House meeting on May 24, Congress would vote to repeal the 1993 law that bars open gays and lesbians from serving in the military. The change in policy would be delayed, however, until after the Pentagon completes a study, due to be finished by Dec. 1, on how to implement the change.
      In addition, the proposed legislation would condition the end of the policy on a certification from President Obama and Pentagon leaders that the change would not harm military readiness or unit cohesion.
      The White House formally endorsed the plan in a letter from budget director Peter Orszag to Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., who has been the chief House sponsor of repeal legislation. In the letter blessing the accord, Orszag said the delay would “guarantee that the Defense Department has prepared the necessary policies and regulations needed to successfully implement the repeal.”
      Murphy plans to introduce the plan as an amendment to a defense spending bill due to be considered on the House floor on Thursday, just before Congress leaves for its Memorial Day recess. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., would similarly offer the plan on Thursday when the Senate Armed Services Committee takes up its version of the defense spending bill.
      A leading House Republican said GOP members will oppose the plan. “The American people don't want the American military to be used to advance a liberal political agenda,” said Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the House Republican Conference.
      Gay rights groups that have been critical of the White House’s failure to press more forcefully to end the policy applauded the new plan with modest reservations. In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called the White House agreement “a dramatic breakthrough in dismantling ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’” But Sarvis voiced some ambivalence in a comment to the Washington Post. “We can live with it,” Sarvis told the newspaper.
      From the opposite side, Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, which backs the current policy, is attacking the proposed two-step repeal. “Any vote for a 'repeal deal' with 'delayed implementation' would be an irresponsible abnegation of Congress’ authority, surrendering the military to the control of political appointees doing the president’s bidding,” Donnelly said.
      More than 13,500 service members have been discharged under the policy since Congress passed the law in 1993. Congress adopted the policy as a compromise after President Bill Clinton’s plan to lift all restrictions on service by gay men and lesbians touched off a political firestorm in his early days in the White House.
      Obama promised during his 2008 campaign to push to repeal the policy, but did little more than reiterate his stand in a speech to the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner in October and in his State of the Union address in January. In February, however, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both endorsed ending the policy in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
      In his testimony, Gates said he was immediately easing enforcement of the policy and also creating a task force to study the practical steps needed to implement repeal. The White House had been urging lawmakers to wait until completion of the study to take up the issue. The congressional supporters of repeal were impatient with the delay, however.
      For their part, gay rights leaders were openly worried that the possible loss of Democratic seats in the November elections would imperil repeal in the next Congress. Sarvis is stressing now that the outcome of this week’s votes is not assured. “The votes still need to be worked and counted,” he says.

      For background, see Peter Katel, “Gays in the Military,” CQ Researcher, Sept. 18, 2009.

Prominent Conservative Quits Congress After Admitting Affair With Staffer

by Marcia Clemmitt

Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., announced today that he is resigning from Congress after acknowledging to colleagues that he had an affair with a female staff member. Both Souder and the staff member are married.
"In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain,” said Souder, who only two weeks ago survived a tough primary election challenge. “I am resigning rather than put my family through that painful, drawn-out process."
During his 16 years in Congress, Souder has been a strong conservative voice on Capitol Hill, whom the CQ Researcher has cited and quoted in numerous reports, most recently in my March 26, 2010, report on “Teen Pregnancy, where I quoted his remarks from a 2008 hearing on abstinence education.
“Extreme interest groups believing in sexual freedom and sexual justice have denigrated the debate over abstinence education by turning it into a vehicle to promote their own ideological agenda of radical sexual autonomy,” Souder said. “We ought not to be persuaded by these groups who, although adopting the language of science and reason” to promote contraceptive education, “are really just evangelists of a … tragically incorrect moral vision. We must … realize that this debate involves deep disagreements between competing values” about morality.
In March 2004, as chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, Souder confronted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration over what he called their continued failure to inform the public about “the lack of effectiveness of condoms in preventing infection.” Souder based his complaint on the fact that condoms are only very minimally effective against HPV – human papillomavirus – according to Sarah Glazer’s Dec. 3, 2004, report on “Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” in which his remarks were quoted. (Condoms are effective against many other sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, however.)
Souder has also been a proponent of strong curbs on illegal drugs, including medical use of marijuana. “I am exasperated at the FDA’s failure to act against fraudulent claims about ‘medical’ marijuana,” he wrote in a 2006 letter to the FDA, quoted in our June 2, 2006, report on the “War on Drugs” by Peter Katel. Souder had begun pressing the FDA to take a strong stance against the medical use of marijuana in 2003.
An ardent spokesman for right-to-life views, Souder has called for a “federal presumption in favor of life” for the Medicare and Medicaid programs, to ensure that federally insured patients are “not denied ordinary care such as hydration or nutrition without due process and full exercise of their rights of human beings,” said our May 13, 2005, report on the “Right to Die” by Kenneth Jost.
In Congress, Souder has also taken strong stands against gun control and for strict punishment of drug crimes and crimes of violence, including among young people.
Our 1998 report on school violence quoted him urging the House to pass a bill to allow juveniles age 14 and up to be tried as adults for violent or drug crimes.
“There should be a price to pay if someone shoots somebody, if they rape somebody or if they use a gun in an armed robbery,” Souder said. “We have spent too much time worrying about these juveniles without thinking about the people who are terrorized by these young people.”
In 2004, Souder announced he had 228 cosponsors on a bill that would abolish gun-control laws in Washington, D.C., and make it illegal for the city’s mayor or council to enact any such laws in the future, our 2004 “Gun Control Debate” report noted.
“The folly of gun control is shown time and again in cities that have strict gun control laws,” Souder said. “Washington, D.C., has the most restrictive gun control laws in the country, yet it is known foremost for its violent criminal activity.” His bill, he said, “would allow law-abiding people to use guns to protect their homes and families.”
The legislation was passed by the House of Representatives, but the Senate never acted on it.
In 2005, Rep. Souder contributed the “pro” At Issue essay for the Researcher’s report on “Intelligent Design,” addressing the question, “Should public schools teach the controversy surrounding evolution and intelligent design?”
In his “yes” response to that question, Souder wrote:
“The question of biological origins continues to plague discussions about public school science-education policy. But why can't high school students just learn the standard scientific view and be done with it? Science is science, and that should end the debate.
“Normally it would. But evolution is different.
“Charles Darwin's theory — and its modern variants — assert that everything we see in the living world is the result of an unplanned, unguided process of random variation and natural selection. It has, from the very beginning, been something more than just a scientific theory. Darwinism quickly became a near-religious conviction for modern agnostics, and since its early days it has been used against people of faith. That history, of course, does not disqualify it as science, but it does help explain why many well-educated Americans have not made, and perhaps never will make, their peace with Darwinian theory.
“…The Darwinian mechanism as an explanation for macroevolution has long been the subject of cogent and powerful scientific criticisms. And those criticisms have become more compelling in recent years as new evidence piles up: Recently uncovered fossil beds deepen the mystery of the Cambrian explosion, and molecular biology reveals the nanotechnology and digital information inside each lowly cell.
“…The theory should not be taught as an absolute.”

Young Offenders 'Less Culpable': Court

By Kenneth Jost
Associate Editor

      Juveniles who commit crimes are less culpable than adult offenders, according to the Supreme Court, and for that reason cannot be imprisoned for life without possibility of parole for a nonhomicide offense.
      The court’s closely divided ruling strikes down sentencing provisions on the books in 37 states and the District of Columbia as well as federal law that permits life-without-parole for juvenile offenders. The decision, based on the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, will apparently require resentencing for 129 inmates currently serving without life-without-parole.
      The decision in Graham v. Florida relied on and extended the court’s 2005 ruling to bar the death penalty for juvenile offenders under the Eighth Amendment. Writing for a five-justice majority in the new case, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy quoted extensively from his own opinion in the earlier ruling, Roper v. Simmons.
      “Roper established that because juveniles have lessened culpability, they are less deserving of the most severe punishments,” Kennedy wrote. Compared to adults, he wrote, juveniles have “a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility,” “are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressures,” and have characters that are “less well formed.”
      “No recent data provide reason to reconsider” those observations, Kennedy continued. In fact, “developments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds.”
      The ruling came in the case of a Florida man, Terrance Jamar Graham, sentenced to life without parole in 2006 after a second home burglary conviction. Graham, who was 16 at the time of the second offense in late 2003, received a severe tongue-lashing from the judge at sentencing.
      The judge said that because of Graham’s “escalating pattern of criminal conduct,” it was “apparent” that Graham had “decided that this is the way you are going to live your life.” “The only thing I can do now,” the judge concluded, “is to try and protect the community from your actions.”
      The justices divided for the most part along traditional ideological lines in the ruling. The court’s four liberal justices joined Kennedy’s ruling, while three conservatives —led by Justice Clarence Thomas — dissented. He argued that the court was wrong to override legislative judgments about sentencing.
      The ruling, Thomas wrote, “raises the question whether any democratic choice regarding appropriate punishment is safe from the Court’s ever-expanding constitutional veto.” Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined his opinion.
      Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. disagreed with his conservative colleagues on upholding Graham’s sentence, but also disagreed with the new constitutional rule that the Kennedy-led majority established. Roberts said Graham’s sentence should have been set aside under the court’s precedents prohibiting “disproportionate” penalties. He cited Graham’s age, the nature of his two offenses and the “unusual severity” of the sentence as reasons for finding an Eighth Amendment violation.
      But Roberts said he would not bar life-without-parole sentences for all juveniles. “Some crimes are so heinous, and some juvenile offenders so highly culpable, that a sentence of life without parole may be entirely justified under the Constitution,” Roberts wrote.
      In his opinion, Kennedy said that despite laws on the books permitting life-without-parole for juveniles, the relative rarity of such sentences indicated “a national consensus” against the practice. Juvenile offenders have been sentenced to life without parole in only a dozen states plus one in federal court, Kennedy said. The vast majority of the cases — 77 out of 129 — are in Florida.
      Kennedy said that a life-without-parole sentence is especially severe for a juvenile because it “improperly denies the juvenile offender a chance to demonstrate growth and maturity.” He specified, however, that a state is not required to guarantee a juvenile offender eventual release. Instead, the state must provide “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”
      In his dissenting opinions, Thomas emphasized that the ruling did not bar life-without-parole for a homicide offense. And in a brief additional dissent Alito noted that the ruling also would allow states to continue to sentence juvenile offenders to lengthy prison terms; he cited a 40-year term as one example.

      For background, see Thomas J. Billitteri, “Youth Violence,” CQ Researcher, March 5, 2010.

CQ Press Award for Teaching Innovation

Announcing the 2010 CQ Press Award for Teaching Innovation


CQ Press proudly announces the 2010 CQ Press Award for Teaching Innovation. The award, which carries a $500 cash stipend, will be presented at the 2010 Reception Honoring Teaching at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

The CQ Press Award for Teaching Innovation recognizes a political scientist who has developed an effective new approach to teaching in the discipline. The award seeks to honor a wide range of new directions in teaching. For example, one year, a professor might be chosen because of an innovative course syllabus, and in another year, a professor may be honored for using a new multimedia approach to reaching students. The only limits on what will be recognized are the imagination and creativity of those teaching political science.

More information on the award including submission guidelines can be found on the American Political Science Association (APSA) website.

Kagan: Few Clues on Future Views

By Kenneth Jost
Supreme Court Editor, CQ Press
     Elena Kagan appears on a path toward Senate confirmation as the next Supreme Court justice, but her ability to move the court in the direction that President Obama hopes for remains to be seen. Indeed, her first effort in that regard failed.
     In announcing his selection today (May 10), Obama stressed along with Kagan’s academic credentials (Princeton, Oxford, Harvard) her reputation as a consensus-builder in six years as dean of Harvard Law School. Obama specifically pointed to Kagan’s role in hiring conservative scholars for the school’s ideologically fractious faculty as evidence of a judicial temperament open to diverse points of view.
     Liberal advocacy groups have been pinning their hopes on Kagan as the silver bullet for pulling Justice Anthony M. Kennedy more often toward the four-justice liberal bloc and away from the bloc of four conservatives headed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. But as U.S. solicitor general, she ended on the losing side of the Court’s 5-4 decision in January striking down a major provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and freeing corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on congressional or presidential elections.
     Obama referred to the case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in his remarks, noting that Kagan took on the case as her debut before the Court last September despite the odds against the conservative majority’s upholding the law. But, echoing his earlier comments on the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, Obama said that Kagan understood that “in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.”
     Kagan had been regarded as the presumptive front-runner for the vacancy ever since last fall, when Stevens signaled his likely retirement by hiring only one law clerk for the coming term instead of the normal complement of four for a sitting justice. In his remarks, Obama indicated he was drawn to Kagan’s life story: immigrant grandparents; her father a housing lawyer, her mother a public school teacher. He noted as well her firsts as a “trailblazing leader” — first female dean at Harvard Law School and now the first woman to serve as solicitor general.
     In her academic career, Kagan produced only a limited paper trail: several law review articles on First Amendment issues, a pair on presidential power, and a few book reviews and speeches. They give conservative critics little ammunition for opposing her, but likewise leave liberal advocacy groups with only limited clues about Kagan’s stands on specific legal issues. In her longest academic writing, she dissected the Court’s free speech cases at length but offered no overarching theory of her own.
     If confirmed, Kagan will come to the Court after service in all three branches of the federal government. She was law clerk to federal appeals court judge Abner Mikva and later to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, both liberal icons. She served as special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 1993 confirmation hearings for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — and later wrote critically about Ginsburg’s evasion of senators’ questions. She then went on to serve under Mikva as associate White House counsel during the Clinton administration.
     Kagan will lack, however, the experience that the other eight justices have: prior service on a federal appeals court. Some conservatives are pointing to the lack of experience as a detriment. On the other hand, some Court watchers have been yearning for a justice to be selected from outside the judicial monastery. William H. Rehnquist — who served for 19 years as chief justice — and Lewis F. Powell Jr. in 1971 were the last justices to be nominated without prior judicial experience.
     If she joins justices Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor as the third woman, Kagan would add to gender diversity, but otherwise she will make the Court less representative of the country as a whole. If she is confirmed, all nine justices will have attended either Harvard or Yale law school. (Stevens graduated from Northwestern.) She will be the seventh justice who counts the Boston-Washington corridor as home (all but Kennedy and Clarence Thomas). And Kagan would be the third Jewish justice — and, with six Catholics, leave the Court for the first time ever with no Protestant member.
     Kagan’s background marks her as a liberal from her childhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side through a college thesis on socialism and her campaign work for such Democrats as Rep. Theodore Weiss and 1988 presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Republican senators looking for vulnerabilities will undoubtedly criticize her decision as Harvard dean to enforce the law school’s policy barring military recruiters on campus to protest the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military. (She changed the policy after the Supreme Court ruled against law schools on the issue by an 8-0 vote.) With that exception, however, Kagan gives potential opponents few easy targets for attack.
     Among the four front-runners for the nomination, Kagan was the youngest; she turned 50 last month. She would be the youngest justice to take the bench since Clarence Thomas was appointed at the age of 43 in 1991. (Justice Antonin Scalia took office in 1986, six months past his 50th birthday.) Her relative youth — and the prospect of a 20- to 30-year tenure — was undoubtedly a factor in Obama’s selection. Stevens retires after a 35-year evolution from moderate conservative to liberal leader. With limited evidence, predictions about Kagan’s role should be made and considered with utmost tentativeness.

Polarized Party Base Ousts Incumbent Utah Sen. Bob Bennett

By Marcia Clemmitt

The polarization of political parties I heard about when I spoke with experts for our “Gridlock in Washington” report last month continues apace.

This past weekend, a Republican Party convention in Utah rejected three-term Sen. Bob Bennett as the GOP nominee for the November election, on the grounds that Bennett isn’t conservative enough.

That event comes as no surprise to political scientists. One big strike against Bennett, in the eyes of party faithful: He’s worked with moderate Democrats on bipartisan initiatives. Even though most political analysts say the majority of American voters prefer middle-of-the-road proposals that contain both Democratic and Republican ideas, increasingly, the most politically active among us reject bipartisan projects out of hand.

“A major reason that Bennett is being challenged in his primary is because he collaborated with Ron Wyden [D-Ore.]” on a bipartisan health-care reform bill, said Sean F. Evans, an associate professor of political science at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Conservatives had blasted Bennett for pushing the proposal, saying that its “goal of universal coverage was the wrong goal for Republicans on political and substantive grounds,” wrote columnist Reihan Salam in the conservative magazine National Review.

Bennett’s not the only senator in trouble with the party apparatus of his home state for pursuing bipartisan proposals, according to Sean Theriault, an associate professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin.

For example, of South Carolina’s two senators, both Republicans, Jim DeMint staunchly opposes proposals that would mean working in a bipartisan way with Democrats, while Lindsey Graham has frequently reached out to Democrats seeking compromises on issues like climate change, says Theriault. For this reason, while the two men’s actual voting records are quite similar, a local Republican organization in the state “passed a censure resolution against Graham for working with Democrats.”

No Democrats so far appear to have been directly censured by the party apparatus for working on a bipartisan basis. Nevertheless, in recent years Democratic congressional leaders have become more likely than in the past to award leadership positions on public policy to members who fight for more consistently liberal causes, analysts say.

For example, in late 2008, Democratic leaders in Congress stripped Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., of his long-time post as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in favor of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Evans points out. A fervent champion of the automobile industry so crucial to his home state, Dingell – unlike Waxman – would probably have dragged his feet on or even opposed climate-change and alternative-energy legislation.

Analysts expect more incumbents, on both sides of the aisle, to face strong challenges this year, as local party activists seek out more ideologically pure candidates. If that happens – and most political scientists seem pretty certain that it will – look for Washington to be even more polarized in 2011.

Is a confrontation with China inevitable?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report on "U.S.-China Relations" by Roland Flamini, May 7, 2010

The Chinese leadership is “gunning for a paradigm shift in geopolitics. In particular, Beijing has served notice that it won't be shy about playing hardball to safeguard what it claims to be ‘core national interests,’” writes Willy Lam, a China specialist at the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation think tank. [Footnote 22] At the top of those national interests is Taiwan which, The Economist magazine said recently, “has been where the simmering distrust between China and America most risks boiling over.” [Footnote 23]

The chance of a war between China and the United States is generally regarded as remote. The Chinese threat to the United States is indirect — for example, if China should decide to use force to annex Taiwan, and America intercedes — as it is committed to do even though the United States does not recognize the island as an independent state.

China hands like Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington, downplay the new “Red Scare.” Economy argues that the West — particularly the United States — has “completely lost perspective on what constitutes reality in China today.” Economy concedes that “there is a lot that is incredible about China's economic story, but there is a lot that is not working well on both the political and economic fronts,” distorting the real picture.

In other words, China has enough problems without provoking the challenge of an international nemesis. The Chinese leadership appears to worry about a fragile society: A persistent nightmare is that a sudden significant spike in unemployment, officially kept at 4 percent (but possibly higher because of the huge, hard-to-track migrant-worker population) could lead to widespread unrest. [Footnote 24]

Still, looking at the Chinese as the potential aggressors, does China have the capacity for a military confrontation with the United States?

In the past five years China has spent hundreds of billions of dollars modernizing its armed forces, with special emphasis on the navy. China's 1.7 million Chinese under arms is considerably more than the 1.4 million in the U.S. armed forces, but in 2009 the U.S. defense budget was $738 billion and China's estimated at between $69.5 billion and $150 billion. [Footnote 25]

The government insists it seeks a peaceful solution to the issue of uniting Taiwan to the mainland, but the Chinese have built up a formidable fleet of submarines and developed anti-ship missiles to counter a possible U.S. defense of the Taiwan Strait. The Americans will be ready for them. In its annual report to Congress on China's military power, the Pentagon said it was “maintaining the capacity to defend against Beijing's use of force or coercion against Taiwan.”

Beyond the strait, the Pentagon reported, “China's ability to sustain military power … remains limited.” [Footnote 26] The Pentagon's annual report is a source of irritation to the Chinese, who routinely denounce it. This year, the Xinhua news agency dismissed the assessment as “a largely subjective report with distorted facts and groundless speculation.” [Footnote 27]

Less hypothetical is the threat to the U.S. government's computer system. The Pentagon's 2009 report said U.S. government computers had been the target of “intrusions that appear to have originated” in China, although not necessarily from the military. [Footnote 28] And in his annual “Threat Assessment” to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair warned in February that “malicious cyber activity is occurring on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary sophistication.”

As a result, Blair added, the United States “cannot be certain that our cyberspace infrastructure will remain available and reliable during a time of crisis.” Blair did not refer to China directly at that point. However, later in his assessment he called “China's aggressive cyber activities” a major concern. [Footnote 29]

In January, after Google reported that hackers in China had targeted the computers of more than 30 U.S. corporations, including its own, and that the e-mail accounts of human rights activists had also been hacked, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on the Chinese government to investigate and to make its findings public. [Footnote 30]

U.S. officials and business executives warn that a trade war could also erupt if the Chinese don't yield to international pressure and raise the aggressive undervaluation of the renminbi, kept artificially low to favor Chinese exports. China's cheap currency is a serious problem for the global economy by undercutting exports throughout the industrial world, including the United States, and contributing to the trade imbalance. (President Obama has contended that if China lets the renminbi appreciate, U.S. exports would increase.)

The Obama administration has so far avoided picking a public fight with China over its currency — even to the extent of postponing indefinitely a Treasury Department report on worldwide currencies originally due out on April 15. Without any movement by Beijing on the currency front, the report could well label China a “currency manipulator.” If that happens, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is ready with draft legislation that would place more tariffs on Chinese goods.

Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming recently told The Washington Post that the United States would lose a trade war with China. “If the United States uses the exchange rate to start a new trade war,” he said, “China will be hurt. But the American people and U.S. companies will be hurt even more.” [Footnote 31]

One way for America to increase its exports, said Chen, would be to remove the restrictions on high-tech goods with possible military applications, which the United States imposed following Beijing's repressive crackdown on student demonstrations in 1989 in Tiananmen Square — something the Obama administration shows no signs of doing.

The Issues
* Is a U.S.-China partnership actually possible?
* Is a confrontation with China inevitable, as some predict?
* Has China's “market authoritarian” model of government emerged as an alternative to Western democracy?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report "U.S.-China Relations" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

About the author
Roland Flamini is a Washington-based correspondent who writes on foreign-affairs for CQ Weekly, The New Republic and other publications. Fluent in six languages, he served as Time bureau chief in Rome, Bonn, Beirut, Jerusalem and the European Common Market and later served as international editor at United Press International. His previous reports for CQ Researcher were on Afghanistan, NATO, Latin America, Nuclear Proliferation and U.S.-Russia Relations.

[23] “Facing up to China,” The Economist, Feb. 4, 2010.
[24] Nicholas D. Kristof, “China, Concubines, and Google,” The New York Times, March 31, 2010.
[25] Drew Thompson, “Think Again: China's Military,” Foreign Policy, March/April 2010 .
[26] “Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People's Republic of China, 2009,” Department of Defense.
[27] “Pentagon issues annual report on China's military power,” Xinhuanet, March 26, 2009.
[28] Pentagon report to Congress, op. cit.
[29] Dennis Blair, “Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” February 2010.
[30] Cecilia Kang, “Hillary Clinton calls for Web freedom, demands China investigate Google attack,” The Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2010.
[31] John Pomfret, “China's Commerce Minister: U.S. has most to lose in a trade war,” The Washington Post, March 22, 2010.
Department of Defense.

Is Washington paralyzed?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report called "Gridlock in Washington" by Marcia Clemmitt, April 30, 2010

The word “gridlock” to describe a paralyzed government — one that moves legislation slower than some would like, or not at all — became common usage around 1980, according to Sarah A. Binder, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank. The concept is far older, however. “Alexander Hamilton was complaining more than two centuries ago about the deadlock rooted in the design of the Continental Congress,” the body of delegates who governed the colonies during the American Revolution, Binder said. [Footnote 9]

More recently, political scientists have defined gridlock as “the propensity of existing policies to be impervious to change in spite of preferences of a popularly elected majority to enact new policies,” explained Stanford University political science professor Keith Krehbiel. [Footnote 10] And, in many ways, such “gridlock is endemic to our national politics, the natural consequence” of a Constitution that set up two separate legislative bodies, the House and Senate, plus a separately elected presidency, with each entity having the power to stop the other two from enacting new policies, Binder said. [Footnote 11]

In some time periods, accusations of gridlock fly thick and fast, and the past few years has been one of those. However, analysts strongly disagree about whether we are experiencing gridlock and, if we are, whether it is a bad thing.

“The Senate is almost dysfunctional now,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. [Footnote 12]

“Congress just got a lot more done in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s than in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s,” wrote political analyst and former President George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum. [Footnote 13]

“Bitter partisanship and ideological extremism rule the day,” says Stanford's Fiorina. “A president many voters thought to be a pragmatic centrist chose to defer to the liberal agenda” of some congressional Democratic leaders “while the [Republican] ‘party of no’ digs in its heels and opposes them at every step. Politics increasingly looks like a collective ‘celebrity death match.’ Washington is gridlocked, paralyzed, stalemated. And one could write much the same story about California and some other state capitals.”

As of mid-March, the Senate “was backed up with 88 unconfirmed nominees” whose names President Obama has forwarded for approval to executive branch positions, wrote Ryan Grim, senior congressional correspondent for the Huffington Post blog. Demonstrating the increase in congressional foot-dragging just over the past decade, that total is “83 more than the Bush administration faced at this point in its tenure,” Grim said. [Footnote 14]

“I think you get the picture that” the held-up nominations constitute a “systematic” effort “to undermine the ability of the executive branch to do its job,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. [Footnote 15]

Further evidence of the roadblocks to changing national policy is the fact that, while a major health-care reform bill has been enacted, it “was done by the narrowest of margins” even though one party holds the White House and both houses of Congress, including one of the largest Senate majorities in decades, says Jeremy Mayer, an associate professor of public policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

“It's hard to gauge gridlock because Congress doesn't always have to do much” in a given year except pass some spending and budget bills and move other routine legislation, says Frances E. Lee, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland in College Park. Nevertheless, Lee and others say that this Congress has changed more policies than many predecessor congresses.

“It's tough to make a case for being in gridlock when Congress has passed the largest social reform in decades” in the form of the new health-care reform law, says Mayer.

In fact, a good case can be made for saying that “this is a truly historical Congress,” based on that accomplishment alone, says C. Lawrence Evans, a professor of government at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

“Since Obama's been president, there's been a major stimulus bill, major higher-education provisions,” and more, besides the health-care reform legislation, says Jones at the University of Texas. “I get so frustrated with people who talk about gridlock.”

Many political scientists point out that Congress' slow march to most legislation is the result not of dysfunction but of institutional procedures put in place by the Constitution mainly to ensure that federal laws reflect the long-term will of the people and are enacted only after significant deliberation.

“Congress does the will of the people at a given time,” but not the will of each fleeting “50-plus-one-percent majority,” says Jones at the City University of New York. If Congress were constructed to immediately change laws “to flip to what the will of the one deciding voter wanted, the result would be constant change” and instability, since the preferences of a bare majority “flip all the time,” Jones says. Instead, Congress acts only in response “to views that a sizable chunk of the public has held for a length of time.”

“It takes a lot of time to build a consensus” on how to solve major problems, says Donald Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project, a nonpartisan study project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Without there being a solid national consensus on solutions” to a given problem, it's right that Congress not rush to legislate, he says.

The public often “has too high expectations for government” to create instant solutions, Wolfensberger says. For example, “the government has been proceeding with work on the economy, but given the fact that about three-quarters of the people” in one recent poll said they believe that “Washington is broken, I don't think people see how much is actually being done,” he says. “The government doesn't specifically replace jobs. It's not like there's some button you can push.”

“Many people don't see that, by Congress talking, they're doing exactly what we want them to do” — which is deliberate over important issues, says Sean F. Evans, an associate professor of political science at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

Speed in legislating is overrated, says Lara Brown, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., who served as a Department of Education official during the Clinton administration. “If we were passing laws as quickly as we were changing parties, we would have an incredibly unstable system,” says Brown.

Our stable system of laws “has created prosperity,” in part because “high predictability allows business to flourish,” says Brown.

The Issues:
* Is Washington paralyzed?
* Is party polarization threatening our democracy?
* Should Senate filibuster rules be reformed?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report "Gridlock in Washington" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

[9] Sarah A. Binder, “Going Nowhere: A Gridlocked Congress,” Brookings Institution website, March 18, 2010,
[10] Keith Krehbiel, “Institutional and Partisan Sources of Gridlock: A Theory of Divided and Unified Government,” Journal of Theoretical Politics, January 1996, pp. 7–40.
[11] Binder, op. cit.
[12] Quoted in Peter Crabb, “How Political Gridlock Delays the Economy's Recovery,” Idaho Statesman online, Feb. 11, 2010,
[13] “Trading Smoke Filled Rooms for Gridlock,” Frum Forum blog, March 1, 2010,
[14] Ryan Grim, “Jim Bunning's Back: Blocking Nominees Over Canadian Smoking Law,” Huffington Post blog, March 16, 2010,
[15] Quoted in ibid.