Saturday, March 2, 2024

THE MULTIPARTY CONGRESS, FACTIONS, AND GRIDLOCK

The U.S. Congress is currently trapped in a condition of what might be described as the more common circumstance of gridlock where the two houses are controlled by majorities in each of the two  major political parties.  That is, in effect, true as the Senate is controlled by a tiny majority (51/49) of Democrats and the House by a similar small majority (219/213) by Republicans (there are three empty seats out of the total 435).  But the current reality is that the disfunction that exists reflects  a "de facto" existence of two different political groups in each party who exercise political power beyond their respective numbers.  This is much more apparent in the House of Representatives but still exists in the Senate.

The major organizational structure which promotes this "four party' reality is the existence of ideological fringe groups called caucuses.  On the far Left in the House is the Congressional Progressive Caucus and on the far Right is the Freedom Caucus.
Of the current total of Republican House members, the Freedom Caucus numbers @40 or 18%.  But of the 213 Democrat House members, the Progressive Caucus numbers 99 or 46%.  Since the Republicans currently hold the majority based on their slim numbers, and the all important Speakership, the existence of the Freedom Caucus has more significance for their agenda that that of the Progressive Caucus on the Democrats.  A defection of only three Freedom Caucus votes from an otherwise party line vote would block any Republican party initiative. 

In the event that Democrats take control of the House in the 2024 elections the 99 votes of the Progressive Caucus will be a formidable influence from the far Left.  For now, in the House, the Freedom Caucus has been able to use the lack of a federal budget and the prospect of a "shut down" of the government if one is not passed or a "continuing resolution" which simply extends the level of existing spending, is not passed, to try and pass such things as border security legislation or significant cuts in federal spending.  Members of the Progressive Caucus have threatened to withhold support for pending foreign aid bills if President Biden doesn't take a more forceful stance with Israel with respect to a cease fire in the Gaza war.  Recently the House and Senate agreed to a 
continuing resolution of sorts, to avoid the imminent government shut down but it is an extremely short term fix and leaves the problem of an ideological impasse looming over the very near future.                                                                                   
In general, the existence and policy preferences of these two more ideologically rigid congressional party sub-groups make bargaining and compromise impossible which seriously impacts the normal legislative process.  

There are serious issues with serious consequences if no action is taken.  The Biden administration wants to continue significant military aid to Ukraine whose troops are now being outmanned and out gunned by the Russians.  They also want to continue the program of long term aid to Israel.  Unfortunately both these issues have become significantly politicized.  The Freedom Caucus influenced House Republican majority want's to pass and submit two separate aid packages for consideration by the Senate and signature by the President.  The Biden administration want a combined package to keep the Republicans from attaching separate non-relevant policy requirements to each.  

Objectively, this blockade by both sides makes little sense.  What the Republicans want to add to the aid appropriations are significant cuts in overall federal spending and strict border security measures.  These are legitimate issues.  Economists on both sides of the partisan fence have long warned of the dangers of unrestrained federal deficits and the accumulation of federal debt which now roughly equals the total Gross Domestic Product of the U.S., the world's largest economy.  Border security is now the foremost cited election issue in public opinion polls with millions of immigrants causing social and economic chaos in large cities throughout the nation.

But cutting federal spending, except in defense spending is an affront to Progressive dogma which the Biden administration is unwilling to risk.  Border security has been made a social issue instead of an economic issue by the Progressive wing of the Democrat Party which has led Biden to ignore the problem up until now.

But the politicization of the underlying foreign aid issues is on both sides.  The Freedom Caucus is heavily influenced by former President Trump who is the presumptive Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election.  Trump has shown himself to have adopted even more of an isolationist orientation than during his presidential term. He has what seems like a simplistic attitude towards international relations which also seems to be more based on a lack of understanding or disinterest in the vast complexities of the subject; "When I'm President I'll end the Ukraine war in 24 hours."; "I'll secure the border by building a wall and making Mexico pay for it." He equates "America first" with American withdrawal from international responsibilities which have threatened continued U.S. aid to Ukraine which has been supported by major U.S. allies in NATO  who see Russian expansion as a formidable threat.  

With respect to Israel Trump has taken a more sympathetic position while President; moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; recognizing the strategic border area between Israel and Syria  known as The Golen Heights, as Israeli territory; and promoting the Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arabic nations.

But still, the Trump influenced Freedom Caucus in the House joins the Progressive Caucus in a position of "sacrificing the good in favor of the perfect" by not compromising to move forward with these important policies.  

If the influence of these two extremist sub-parties isn't enough of a disfunction, the whole legislative and international orientation of the government is over lain by the raw politics of the 2024 election.

With respect to aid to Israel, Biden is feeling pressure from the Left of his party and Arab population concentrations in Michigan to rescind his early "unconditional" support for Israel after the heinous attack by Hamas on October 7th and demand a permanent ceasefire under the threat of terminating historical U.S. military aid.  The significance and horror of this attack on Israel has been abandoned by much of the American media in the face of Israel's invasion and bombing of Gaza where Hamas resides and is embedded in the highly dense civilian population.  

Biden has tried to mollify his progressive critics by calling for a cease fire in the Gaza war "as soon as possible", and negotiations for a Palestinian state in its' aftermath. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his "war cabinet" have rejected both possibilities and have only agreed to a six week ceasefire if the hostages held by Hamas are released. Of course a ceasefire in any conflict can only put in place by the agreement of the two parties to the conflict, Hamas and Israel. It cannot be imposed by Biden, American college students or Arab-Americans in Michigan. So far, Hamas and the Israeli government are miles apart on the terms of such an agreement.

Those threatening a cut off of military aid is over estimating the short term effect on Israel's military capabilities and war strategies as well as under estimating the long term political effect of a cutoff of aid to Israel.  Netanyahu, while unpopular in Israel with respect to domestic issues, has wide support for his war policies and is unlikely to accept a cease fire as long as Hamas remains as a terrorist threat and a political force in Gaza.  

In the broader picture, the U.S. has major security interests in the Middle East region and Israel is an important  ally and counterweight to the regional and hostile ambitions of Iran. the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain and the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have mutual security interests with respect to Islamic terrorism and Iranian expansion.  Biden has also stated that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if China invaded it and his administration has been building stronger security relationships with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.  While these nations are not in the Middle East, to send the message that Biden's policies are just temporary promises  subject to domestic electoral political pressures would have a negative impact on U.S. credibility and would appear ominously similar to Republican candidate Trump's recent criticism of U.S. collective defense obligations under the NATO treaty. 

One would hope that Biden is more likely to continue to try and tamp down the Arab-American and other protests by upping criticism of Israel's war tactics but avoiding actual threats to terminate decades long military assistance to Israel.

All of this is symptomatic of a fundamental fragmentation of the American body politic.  Polls show that the two most important issues to voters are the economy and border security, which common sense would demand that compromise is necessary for the general welfare.   But campaign "experts", opinion "journalists" and political activists continue to promote the tactic of identifying and promoting narrow or single issue voting blocs with uncompromising positions.  In general terms the two major caucuses include these smaller groups with the result being policy gridlock. This can't be resolved without a broader political consensus providing significant majorities to one party or the other in the Congress. However, the fragmentation of the country by the promotion of multiculturalism, race and religion as political identities makes this highly improbable.                                                                                                                      

  















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