Kevin Drum cites Gallup’s polling to explain “why congress is at a standstill”.
Is this good news? I’d say no for two reasons. First, those are pretty thin margins. Stimulus polls the best, but even that’s only 60-38. There’s just not much sense of urgency there. You generally need stronger support than that to get Congress to take action.
Obviously there’s always a question of what you want to hold constant, but I urge people pondering congressional inaction to always take note of institutional structure—bicameralism and the filibuster. A majority of Senators favor additional stimulus. But a minority is blocking action. It’s not 100 percent clear to me that a majority of Senators support carbon pricing, but the House of Representatives already passed a carbon pricing bill and I think the margin is close in the Senate. However, we’re nowhere near 60 votes for such a scheme in the Senate, so instead of squeezing one or two arms the leadership is looking for different approaches. And so on and so forth down the line.
And the second factor behind institutional structure is almost always the desires of members of congress, free and equal moral agents who are responsible for their own actions. Tom Harkin has had a successful career representing the voters of Iowa and so has Chuck Grassley. Public opinion and political culture constrains what legislators can get away with, but the bounds are fairly wide. Congress isn’t acting because (a) the rules make it hard for Congress to act, and (b) many members of Congress choose not to act, with an important assist being provided by (c) many members of Congress choose not to change the rules.