Future

Good News About Gridlock

Fans of limited government have a lot to be happy about. It's much harder to go big when you are constantly at risk of being told to go home.

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The good news is, everybody lost in the 2020 election—at least a little bit. Donald Trump lost the White House, Democrats lost ground in the House, and the Senate remains in contention with the most likely outcome being Republican control and therefore divided government.

The most sought-after prize in politics is a mandate: a win so big that it justifies ramming through an ambitious political agenda. The idea of being in such a position is so alluring that politicians who just barely managed to eke out a victory—or parties that are barely clinging to a majority—will sometimes still try to claim a mandate. It was a thorn in Trump's side that he lost the popular vote so spectacularly while winning the presidency in 2016, for instance, because it made claiming widespread popular support that much less plausible.

But divided government makes it difficult to posture in this particular way, and that's likely to be a good thing for fans of limited government and fiscal discipline during a Joe Biden administration. It's much harder to go big when you are constantly at risk of being told to go home.

Single party control typically comes with a big price tag, regardless of the party in control. In Trump's first term, spending went up about 10 percent, according to data from the Office of Management and Budget. Under George W. Bush, that number was 24 percent. Both men enjoyed Republican majorities in Congress for much of their presidencies.

Under Bill Clinton, however, when government was largely divided, spending increased only 3 percent. And during the presidency of Barack Obama it fell 10 percent. This was not because those Democratic presidents were deeply committed to cutting spending—far from it, though previous generations of Democrats were warmer to the idea of fiscal restraint than the current generation.

The same is true, of course, of previous generations of Republicans. Under past administrations, Republicans were well established (rhetorically, if little else) as fiscal hawks. But they have in recent years largely abandoned that banner, choosing to downplay concerns about the long-term consequences of budget imbalances when those imbalances were brought about by spending on GOP priorities, such as defense and tax cuts, with no offsetting spending reductions. The real question is whether the dynamic of gridlock as a check on the growth of spending still holds in a country where the orthodoxy about debt and deficits has shifted.

As we saw during the confirmation battle over Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court, leading congressional Republicans do not mind a little hypocrisy in the service of higher goals. So it may be that Republicans snatch up the flag of fiscal conservatism once again, brush off the mud, and pretend as if they haven't been trampling on it for years.

Another significant difference from the last time there was divided government is the increasing abdication of congressional responsibility in favor of executive power. Gridlock may well exacerbate this already established tendency of presidents to take recourse to executive fiat when the legislative or confirmation process stalls. Biden has made clear that he will reverse several of Trump's signature executive orders on his first days in office. Given his positions on a path to citizenship for people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as well as spending on a border wall and the treatment of asylum seekers, it will become alarmingly traditional for U.S. immigration policy to swing wildly every time power changes hands—a bad thing for Americans and would-be Americans alike.

The same is true of trade policy and foreign policy, where presidents have significant latitude. Wars are expensive—both hot wars and trade wars. Biden didn't run on either kind of bellicosity, though presidents have a way of coming to terms with debt and deaths after assuming power.

At the same time, some of the most alarming and highest-variance outcomes threatened by Democrats are now unlikely to occur. Court packing will be all but impossible under divided government, for example. Making and implementing massive climate change accords will prove difficult, especially if Republicans do indeed retain control of the Senate and its treaty-approving powers. Biden has already made clear that his agenda for health care reform is less radical than that of much of his party, but the possibilities there will be limited by a lack of congressional cooperation as well.

Gridlock is not the same thing as a libertarian moment. Gummed-up works are a consolation prize when there is so much urgent policy work to be done, including economic deregulation, dismantling of the barriers to free movement of people and goods, spending cuts, criminal justice reform, and more.

The election results did yield some encouraging signs for personal freedom, however. When Americans were asked in their polling places about specific individual freedoms, they chose "leave people alone" in large numbers. Faced with an unusually interesting slate of referenda, voters consistently selected the libertarian option without much fuss. Drug legalization and decriminalization ran the table, with all eight initiatives winning. Affirmative action will not be brought back in California college admissions and government hiring. Uber and Lyft do not have to reclassify their drivers as employees in the Golden State. In Massachusetts, voters approved a "right-to-repair" measure that protects property rights. The list goes on and on.

The Libertarian Party (L.P.) also put in a respectable showing, with its second-best national result ever. The party did well enough in several states to cover the spread between the major party candidates. While this, inevitably, will occasion claims that the L.P. played spoiler, there's always the hope that instead of angrily demanding fealty from Libertarian supporters, one of the major parties will take the concerns of that largely untapped well of voters and potential voters into account and attempt to appeal to them more systematically in the next election cycle.

Another way to interpret the results is that on a deeper level nothing changed. The country is divided. We knew that before Election Day. Watching day after day of vote counting where totals wavered back and forth over the line of a bare majority drove that fact home more viscerally than ever. It's pretty much exactly about 50/50 out there, folks. That's how our parties are built. We'll have a couple of years in which this particular variation of partisan control in Washington constrains political actors in certain ways, until another election slightly tweaks the balance of power again and we start over—while leaving nearly every incumbent in place and the options for dissatisfied voters almost completely unchanged.

In general, if people are dancing in the streets after an election, it's a bad sign. It shows that the stakes of politics are too high, that people think too little of the other side (or too highly of their guy), and that voters have overvalued a single race at the top of the ticket. The slow burn of this cycle's results tempered the feelings of both victory and defeat. Gridlock isn't anyone's first choice—not even libertarians'—but everyone losing a little is likely the best case for the next couple of years. Sore winners beget sorer losers, though, and since we have to do this again quite soon it behooves everyone to think about what it will be like when you are, as you inevitably will be, on the other side again.

NEXT: Brickbat: Dressed for Success

Future Gridlock Election 2020 Biden Administration

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103 responses to “Good News About Gridlock

  1. But, we’re facing a covid ‘crisis’, and a warming ‘crisis’. Minorities and women hardest hit, and think of the children. Why do you hate the children.

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    2. Reason completely ignored the fact that 3 USSC judges inferred the constitution could be suspended if science told politicians something was a danger. That was the essence of the dissent for the NY churches case a week ago.

      1. BS…The judges simply applied the Constitution and found the restrictions violated the free exercise clause. Restrictions are fine as long as you write them specific to the behaviors. Since minorities are being more impacted by COVID would it be ok for restrictions to be implemented that only apply to minorities?

        1. You know what a dissent is, right?

          It’s still alarming that 3 of the Nazgul are willing to toss the constitution when it suits them.

          1. Opinions…

          2. All 9* of them are willing to do that, and there is nothing remotely new about that. The only saving grace is that the “when it suits them” generally doesn’t line up across a majority of the justices.

            *Well 8 any way, I suppose it will be a while before we can be sure about Barret.

        2. Umm… read slower next time.

          1. Lol…try thinking.

            1. Dude you got smoked.

              1. Lol! Yep…I actually reread her comment…

          2. My apologies…

        3. Restrictions are fine as long as you write them specific to the behaviors.

          If only.

          *Restriction made for specific behavior*

          NPR: Hey, these behaviors are more prevalent among people of color! RACISMS!!!11!!

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    3. I hate children because they are whiny, temper-tantrum throwing, greedy little brats; mostly because their parents are whiny, temper-tantrum throwing, greedy little brats who never provide any discipline.
      Boomer has spoken.

      1. Yeah, well my kids [now responsible and self supporting adults thank you] are great.

    4. Because they are noisy and won’t stay off my lawn.

  2. One, we don’t have gridlock quite yet.

    Two, the stakes are high because one party has demonstrated a desire to micromanage every aspect of life and increasingly openly despises and suppresses dissent. That party will control the increasingly dictatorial powers of the executive come the end of January. The electorate’s feeling that the stakes are high is not irrational. The stakes have been made increasingly high.

    1. Hanson on the suppression of dissent.

    2. Yes, but b0tH siDeS.

      Sure one party is an Eldritch Abomination, but the other is the Keystone Cops. Awkward bumblefuckery and petty greed is just as bad as a demonic hatred of humanity and a desire for total control.

      1. Uh, sure.

    3. One party is griping because social media censors too much, the other party is griping because they don’t censor enough. So let’s print mocking articles about the guy who complains they censor too much. Looking at you Sen. Hawley!

  3. Yes, gridlock can prevent some of the stupidity. But it also has a history of you vote for mine and I vote for yours. Then there is group think stupidity, the vote for the Iraq war had 90% of republican and over 70% of democrats. That is as thoroughly bi partisan as any vote I can remember.

    Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

    1. I still want AOC to eat my ass. Oh God! I’d do terrible things to her petite Latina body if I got my hands on her.

      1. Tell us more, rabbi.

        Yeah she seems to have a nice body from what little I’ve seen of her; suppose it would work if you put a sack over her head and duct taped her mouth [just to clarify, assuming she is a willing participant, you still wouldn’t want to look at her face or hear her palaver].

        There, I’ve given you some ideas to work with. Now let’s see if some ambitious state or federal attorney gets their grubby mitts on this post and goes after me/us for sounding [albeit “hyperbolic, in questionable taste–and fully within the norms of Internet commentary”] rapey against a member of congress. A la Preet Bharara?

        1. I want to paint AOC’s tiny brown taco lips with my crème fraîche.

          1. Don’t know why you assume they’re tiny. I always assumed she was loose and sloppy. Still would with a bag over her head though.

            1. i’m with the rabbi … no bag required.

              1. Well I guess if you’re turned on by stupid go for it; there seems to be a fetish for just about everything else.

                1. I don’t think I ever asked a girl her SAT score.

                  1. A girl once vigorously rubbed my pants when we were sitting next to each other. I think she was interested in seeing my RPN calculator but I declined to show it to her and quickly left. I don’t want anyone touching my RPN calculator.

    2. The problem of wishing for gridlock is that there has been a century if diminishing freedoms as the executive expanded. Gridlock assures we don’t move toward freedom as much as it stops an increase of authoritarianism. The problem is gridlock doesn’t effect rule making from the deep state which happily continues increasing regulations. So gridlock ends up even worse as it ensures the ratchet goes in only one direction.

      Instead of highlighting things like tax cuts and deregulation, reason settled for the status quo of federal expansion through non elected officials.

      1. Given the current composition of SCOTUS, perhaps it would be a good time for them to revisit the meaning of congressional delegation?

      2. Gridlock assures we don’t move toward freedom as much as it stops an increase of authoritarianism. The problem is gridlock doesn’t effect rule making from the deep state which happily continues increasing regulations. So gridlock ends up even worse as it ensures the ratchet goes in only one direction.

        It also ignores the layer-cake where, at the highest level, we’re gridlocked on whether we can smoke weed after paying a tax while at the local level, if you allow more than 6 people in your bar/church/gym/bakery, any without masks, they’ll send goons to shut down your bar/church/gym/bakery and collect fines.

      3. For the first time in my life we got a guy who was a real outside, a guy who didn’t talk like DC, didn’t walk like DC, didn’t act like DC, and DC hated him with every fiber of their being.

        He was clumsy, brash, prone to petulant outbursts, but he had some interesting instincts which resulted in some decisions that were more deferential to federalism than any executive I can remember.

        Sometimes libertarianism comes in a strange package, and isn’t wrapped perfectly.

        1. >>DC hated him with every fiber of their being.

          this was the most beautiful part of all.

    3. None of us is as dumb as all of us.

      1. None of us can’t be prevented from being stupider than all of us.

      2. only in voting are we led to believe that a larger committee will reach a better decision.

  4. It’s good to know that I’m not being herded into a reeducation camp because there’s just enough gridlock to stop it. This is so much better than having the guys that aren’t endorsing political violence in charge.

    1. We needed to end Drumpf’s coarse and vulgar reign. Now we can pull back the idea known as Antifa and stop them from smashing windows and fascist faces.

    2. THIS is the real issue here. Apparently we didnt have gridlock b4?
      Oh, but now we do and its spectacular! We had the lower courts, the congress, and every sector of the progressive owned and operated society resisting the republican \trump administration and apparently that wasnt good gridlock. but now that biden is in and might have to face a [barely] republican senate … now we’re gold!
      Is this a textbook case of gaslighting or what?

  5. You know Katherine, it would have been a better article extolling the virtues of gridlock had you included something actionable. Say for instance, S&P500 performance when government is divided, versus one party controlling Congress and the Presidency. Maybe with the money that Reason Readership would make applying that actionable information, you’d get more donations.

    And fix the website! Could you please kill off the spammers. And FFS, get an edit function.

    1. How would edit work? You post a comment, someone replies, and then you change it? Preview yes, edit?

      1. I’m sure an Edit button won’t be abused. Reason doesn’t need to stop the “spammers” though. A free market solution will provide the answer better than censorship.

      2. Minute edit window dummy. Fairly standard.

        1. Excuse the fuck out of me me for not being kicked off a dozen comment boards like you.

          1. Judging from that comment i find your claim hard to believe.

            1. I know right, I assumed sarc was a pro.

              1. This is the only place he posts when he’s been drinking.

          2. I’ve never been kicked off of any. I just understand basic design and don’t get pass out drunk nightly to forget about it.

      3. How would edit work? You post a comment, someone replies, and then you change it? Preview yes, edit?

        Yes, an edit button, dumbass.

    2. Could you please kill off the spammers.

      Do you realize how embarrassing it is as a writer to write a great summary of what you read on twitter, only to have thirty people point out what a credulous idiot you are?

      For the Reasonistas, the spammers are a feature not a bug. just like the fifty-centers. It’s about trying to make the commenters lose interest through spam, stupidity and harassment.

  6. “Sore winners beget sorer losers”

    So much so that it caused you slimy Democrats to commit voter fraud this time around. You were willing to do anything…just to make the mean tweets stop.

    And we don’t have gridlock, the GA runoffs are still running under the same voter fraud scheme and Governor Abrams is busy rounding up plenty of out of state voters.

    1. This.

      They are saying now that the fraud claims are at least 30 times the vote margin. That is not to say they are all valid but the people in charge don’t give a shit and are still happy to certify.

      If the nation watches this election get stolen in front of our eyes and nothing happens, then we officially live in a shithole country.

      1. Mass MAGA suicides when? The Kool Aid has been prepped and Ivanka and Jared are handing out SOLO cups.

        1. Not likely.
          The ‘other’ side is the gang that insists on free stuff, and would be the ones grabbing to get the Kool Aid first.

      2. Resist!
        Not my president!
        #NeverBiden

    2. The Ds will win st least one of those seats.

  7. Between Collins, Murkowski, and Romney, the Senate is sadly no longer in contention and the Georgia run-offs are merely a sideshow. The GOP would have to stay solid and united to block any of Biden’s and Pelosi’s proposals and there’s three decent, honorable, noble, principled Republicans who feel Biden deserves the right to govern however he wants even if they disagree with his governing principles and they have no right to obstruct him the way they did to Trump.

    It’s way past time to start kicking some of these useless fuckers out of the party, if you gotta hold your nose and vote for them just because they’ve got an (R) next to their names, it’s not worth selling your soul to elect a squish.

    1. Which of the three will pull a Jeffords first?

    2. Utah and Alaska maybe. But Collins is the best we could hope for from Maine.

  8. I’ve still got a weakness for women with purple hair and a Joker smile.

      1. 8/10

  9. Also Katherine…I commend you for firing Shreika Dalmia. Good move.

    1. Conservative cancel culture strikes again!
      What happened to intellectual freedom and the marketplace of ideas?

      1. “What happened to intellectual freedom and the marketplace of ideas?”

        Mostly the rich coastal elites and their overwhelming presence in the media sector.

  10. The problem I have noted before is when opposition simple become political. I will not support anything the other party supports. Yes, stopping big things is good, but not enough. Little things can be worked on and neaten up. How about passing a budget? How about pulling back on some of the President authorization to use force?

    By the way, Senator McConnell has used the excuse of the President will not sign this many times to avoid votes. Can he do this in the future.

    1. Something tells me you only have a problem when one party makes their opposition ‘political.’

      1. Yes, by before he means four years ago.

  11. Also note we will not have gridlock if Sidney Powell has her way and Georgia Republicans boycott the election until the corrupt GA official are all gone.

    1. yeah, shoot themselves in both feet, good advice

      1. It’s as libertarian as it gets, right?

    2. I wonder how much the DNC is paying Powell.

  12. Gridlock just means neither party can (easily) implement their full agenda. Perhaps with a less divisive executive Congress can do a better job at compromise and tackle problems with logic and reason. But I won’t hold my breath…

    1. .. a less divisive executive …
      LOL. Good luck with that!

    2. Yeah, I know. If Republicans would just be less divisive, Democrats would be able to push their agenda through more easily.

      1. I said executive…perhaps you don’t think the Trumpster is divisive….

        1. I certainly don’t think he was. I do think the most divisive aspect of the Trump administration was the press – absolutely and indisputably. But then, they made every sentence of theirs include words to the effect of – Trump is divisive – so i guess that means it must be true.
          If you drink enough of the Kool-Aid i guess you can make yourself believe anything.

        2. “…perhaps you don’t think the Trumpster is divisive…”

          Perhaps if those with TDS weren’t so afflicted, they wouldn’t have been so ‘divided’.
          Hating a personality is juvenile at best, and there was a ton of juvenile acting out over the last four years.

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  14. Illustrated: Sicilian 4-way deadlock, from “Sex, Honor, and the Italian Driver”.

  15. “The most sought-after prize in politics is a mandate: a win so big that it justifies ramming through an ambitious political agenda.”

    If big majorities are so righteous, how about applying this to all Congressional votes? No bill passes without a 2/3 majority.

    1. I would be down for that. Or up for that. Or whatever the current parlance is. No bill of substance shall be passed but a 2/3 majority of the total members of the legislature.

      “Oh, but then government couldn’t get anything done! Sob!”

      Yes, that’s the point.

      1. any vote involving over 1 billion dollars in federal spending should require a 3/4 majority. if something is truly needed, there should be broad bipartisan agreement.

        of course the logical way around this would be to pass smaller individual spending bills, which would be great — much harder to throw bones to everyone to get some pork to pass.

  16. Nobody will be more surprised when the democrats ‘win’ both GA seats than the writers at Reason. And nobody will line up faster to suck our new overlords dick.

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  18. The best we can ever hope for with our system of politics is a divided and gridlocked government.

    Back when Perot was whining about gridlock I was shouting “more! more! more!”

    1. Perot also said when you find yourself in the hole, stop digging.

      Too bad we didn’t listen. The hole is now 27 trillion dollars deep.

  19. …Democrats lost ground in the House, and the Senate remains in contention with the most likely outcome being Republican control and therefore divided government.

    I wouldn’t make any large bets about GA putting another Republican in the senate. I’d say it’s 50/50 at best. Democrats getting in means that we get the opposite of gridlock.

  20. This is hilarious from Mangu-Ward. Here she is extolling how great it was that we had an election in which the voters asked for divided government. The operative word being “voters.”

    And yet, she constantly tells you what a waste of time voting is. In fact, she said you’d be better off watching the game on tv. Her words.

    But ok, let’s follow her lead…all you Republicans here (and that’s just about everybody who comments), if you reside in Georgia, stay home in January and watch the game instead of voting in that meaningless election.

    Hey…Mangu-Ward thinks it’s a good idea!

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    2. Seems your mom thought it was a good idea not to abort you; the world regrets it.

  21. Gridlock lol (R) is (D) is (R) is (D) once you play for the Washington Elite

  22. This is just my personal opinion, don’t need any hate comments on here. This election is far from over. I don’t believe that President Trump lost. Look at all the evidence of thousands of document dumps at 3:30-4:00 am on the morning after the election. Offered proof and sworn testimony. If you examine the courts/judges that are throwing some of these cases out, they are have all been appointed by the liberal left. No, I do believe in our Constitution the way it was written and the rule of law. I think this is going to the SC and when it does, these faux ballots will be tossed and Dominion and Smartmatic voting machines will be declared unlawful.

    There are snakes on both sided of the aisle in our Congress and there are only a few that are standing for the rights of WE the people, you know, the ones that pay our salary. President Trump (like him or not) is correct. This election, our votes, ALL votes were compromised and this election has been a farce. If left to go on, how on earth do you think it will stop w/Biden in the WH? HE IS a major part of the problem. Known facts are the Biden family is corrupt as can be. (watch and learn). Harris will be made President inside of a year b/c ol’ creepin’ Joe is not mentally able to be POTUS. Harris is a flaming socialist and this country will cease to be a Republic if they are in the WH. They have already said they side with the globalists. Do you realize what that means. The US will be dancing to some panel of a few socialist smacks at the Haig and will have lost ALL sovereignty as a nation. So will all other nations in the world. We will all be just one big old lump of a few very very wealthy at the top and the rest will be living as their surfs. WAKE UP and realize what is truly at steak here.

    We need to rid our halls of Congress of the scumbags that are out to line their own pockets and NOT work for the American people who ACTUALLY pay their salaries. They have gotten filthy rich off of lobbies and under the table deals from wealthy friends. Look at the Clinton’s. When they went to DC they had virtually no money. They had been living off the taxpayers of Arkansas for years. When leaving the WH, they were not “dead broke” like HRC claimed. They were very very wealthy millionaires. How did that happen on his salary and she was NOT getting paid to do the First Lady’s job? It’s all about connections and it’s all about who you are willing to sell your soul to.

    The Bush’s the same way. AND many others. Yes, there are snakes everywhere and the “good ol’ status quo in DC” is NEVER going to change UNTIL the snake nest is blown to the four winds. If you don’t do your research, really look at what has been happening, you are ignorant as can be.

    President Trump came into office to change many things and he did, FOR THE BETTER, whether you believe it or not. Look at the economy, look at the jobs he brought back to this country, look at the lowest unemployment ever and the highest stock market ever (if you have a 401-K plan, unless you are stupid, you will see that a few months into his Presidency the recession was crushed and until COVID hit, the economy was on fire). He has been called every name in the book, his family has been attacked viciously, even his grandchildren have been maligned. He as been censored by big tech (they were afraid if you knew how well the economy was doing, you would say, “hey, maybe this guy DOES know what is doing”. The MSM has virtually shut him out. If Obama was still President, EVERY SINGLE THING Trump has accomplished would have been front page news and touted as the greatest administration ever. You all know it. So does the world, but they have what he is doing b/c he is not a globalist willing to play their game. He believes in nations being their own country. He loves America and believes in our Constitution. And he as done it ALL FOR NO PAY! What other President EVER has done that? None.

    Hope and pray it’s not too late for this nation and until the Republicans in Congress can have the guts to stand with him, I have no use for most of them. They are showing who has been bought off and who hasn’t.

  23. I take solace in knowing the only thing standing between me and the Green New Deal is a contested senate vote.

    1. It’s totes reassuring

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  25. everybody lost in the 2020 election—at least a little bit

    Individual liberty ate it pretty hard. But hey, what else is new.

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