Dissatisfaction with our non-functioning government rocketed to the top of Americans’ list of problems facing the country after House Republicans shut the government down last week in an effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, according to a new Gallup poll:
This polling result is not particularly surprising, both because the House GOP’s willingness to extort the president with a shutdown and the threat of a government default is a genuine sign of dysfunction and because the shutdown dominated the news for the last two weeks. The interesting question is whether voters will simply attribute the shutdown to a failure of individuals within government, or whether this moment of extreme dysfunction opens the door to larger reforms to our system of government.
The shutdown resulted because Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on which terms to open the government, but it also resulted because our Constitution permits periods of divided government when these kinds of impasses can occur. It occurred because gerrymandering and other factors related to legislative districts allowed Republicans to gain control of the House, even though more Americans voted for a Democratic representative than for a Republican, and because the House rules enable the Republican leadership to prevent a vote to reopen the government even if a majority of the elected representatives would support such a bill. Similarly, while the filibuster has not yet emerged as a major obstacle to reopening the government, it is often the sole thing preventing important government jobs from being filled or popular legislation from passing.
If at least some of the veto points and anti-democratic features choking the American system of government are not removed, it is likely more shutdown crises will emerge in the future even if this one is resolved.