In addition, in the past Congress routinely could look forward to widespread agreement on legislation that would benefit everyone’s district or state.
“The farm bill, post offices, highways, those were always the exceptions (to strict partisanship) because they touched everyone. But even those now involve ideological divisions,” Senate Historian Don Ritchie said.
The short-fix trend, the politicians say, reflects a polarized electorate. “Everyone has just dug in their heels,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo. And people rarely hear the opposing view. “They see things on Fox or MSNBC and that’s it,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
The parties help fuel this trend by pushing sharply partisan agendas, hoping to elect more like-minded lawmakers with largely ideological manifestos and to pad their majorities. On Wednesday, for instance, the House plans to vote on repealing the 2010 federal health care law, even though a similar effort won in the House earlier this year on a largely party-line vote and then died in the Democratic-run Senate.
Later this month, House Republicans plan a vote on extending the Bush-era tax cuts. They’ll get little if any Democratic support, since most Democrats want the cuts to end for the highest earners. In the Senate, Democrats have taken votes to increase taxes on the wealthy, measures that have died in the House.
By the end of the year, some sort of accord – another temporary fix – looks plausible.
“At the end of the day, neither caucus wants to be held responsible for collapsing popular programs or raising fees on college loans or defaulting the government, so the two caucuses ‘compromise,’ through a temporary fix that keeps the status quo limping along,” Public Citizen’s Holman said.
And the people most affected by the quick fixes are unable to do any long-term planning. That was evident when Congress approved a one-year freeze last month in the interest rate for subsidized Stafford loans. Weeks of disagreements over how to pay the $5.9 billion tab had stymied the student loan-rate bid.
“It is a mixed outcome,” said Haley Chitty, the communications director for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
But, Chitty added, “there is also the issue of making student loans predictable and easy to understand. Over the last five years, the interest rate on these loans has been different.”
Because Congress waited until the last minute – the 3.4 percent rate was to double July 1 – “it makes it more difficult for students and parents to predict and understand what their rate will be.”
And, he said, “If this year is any indication, we’ll be facing a similar situation this time next year.”