'Super Committee' Failure: Super Gridlock in the Muppet Congress

Congress is starting to resemble a parliamentary system.

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In an age of super heroes and blockbuster movies glorifying those with extraordinary powers, we are left with the Muppets. And that may be doing a disservice to the Muppets.

Only 9 percent of the American people have a positive image of Congress—slightly higher than the percentage that view Fidel Castro favorably. Now that is scary.

Are these bad people? No. Do they not have the best interests of the American people at heart? I believe most do.

[Vote: Who is to Blame for the Failure of the Super Committee?]

Is this all about two different philosophies of government? Certainly, that is a big part of the stalemate.

Unfortunately, most Americans now believe that there is more consensus, more cooperation, and more compromise—and maybe more maturity—on a nursery school play yard than in the U.S. Congress.

We can point to growing polarization, a lack of civility, people coming to Congress in ideological straight jackets, signing ridiculous pledges, being beholden to the more extreme elements of their political party.

But I would argue that American Democracy, at least for the moment, has transitioned into a parliamentary system, without the accountability. It is nearly impossible for Members of Congress to routinely cross party lines, at least on the most important votes. The pressure is great, the ideology has become increasingly rigid, and the politics of bucking your leadership is seriously problematic.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the deficit super committee.]

The current gridlock on our most difficult problems can't be resolved by dissolving the government and holding new elections. It probably won't be resolved next November. We will be faced, no matter who wins, with equal or greater intransigence from the opposition party.

And our voters will not have a chance to vote, as in a parliamentary system, for or against the party in power or the back benchers. Because our system now allows a minority to stifle the majority so easily in the Senate, through filibusters and holds, but allows the majority to dictate what is brought to the floor and voted on in the House, we are faced with paralysis.

Never before have I seen such a strong sense of a party-lock in Congress. Our recent history is one of moderates in the two parties holding swing votes, people crossing party lines on issues, and the ability to reach compromise when the country demands it.

[Laura Chapin: What the Kardashians and the Super Committee Have in Common]

Now, we exhibit all the markings of a parliamentary system but cannot extricate ourselves from the tendency toward permanent gridlock. Campaigns never end and self-preservation determines many members' votes. The old approach of "working it out" is gone, at least temporarily, and there is no mechanism, even with the so-called super committee, to bust out of the hold that the system has on Congress.

The American people, after this latest breakdown, are watching as their savings and 401k's are tanking. They are watching the blame game. They are watching Congress do very little to create jobs and improve their economic plight. For the moment, all they can do is throw up their hands. And the anger builds.

  • Read U.S. News's Debate Club on who, the U.S. or Europe, is handling their debt crisis better.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit
  • Read about the show down to come in Congress over the debt and taxes.