It is time for people in politics to realize that super majority requirements don’t promote compromise or moderation, they mainly just produce gridlock that prevents any action from taking place, therefore protecting the status quo.
This is something that William Galston of the Brookings Institution and Elaine Kamarck of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government seem to totally fail to understand because their idea for making “politics safe for moderates” is to inflict even more super majority requirements on the federal government to produce even more gridlock. From their Politico Op-ed:
[T]he congressional leadership should be elected by a supermajority of, say, 60 percent. Unless one party enjoys an overwhelming edge, the first vote in each new Congress would test the majority party’s ability to create the bipartisan coalitions that are integral to effective government.
At every level, this is a truly absurd and dangerous suggestion. Lets say in 2012 Republicans win the Presidency and narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress. What happens if all the Democrats simply refuse to support any Republican for Speaker of the House and demand one of their own be elected Speaker?
Republicans would be right to refuse to elect a Democratic speaker, so Congress would be crippled with intractable gridlock. Since totally stopping the Republican agenda for months isn’t a bad outcome from the Democrats’ perspective, they would have no reason to reduce their demands. As we saw in the last election, voters blame the party in power for failure to actively govern, even if it is the minority obstruction preventing action.
More simply, what if there are two “moderates” who want to be speaker, but neither can get 60 percent and neither side wants to back down? We would be effectively left without a Congress.
Democratic institutions work on a majority basis for a very specific mathematical reason. Many times there are two mutually exclusive choices, such as a “yes” or “no” question or deciding between two candidates for only one position, where people are fairly evenly divided. A simple majority assures that at least a decision is made, while any super majority requirement could and often does result in an intractable stalemate.
Having a super majority requirement for things like constitutional amendments is fine to the extent that if the amendment doesn’t pass the status quo is still a functional government. On the other hand, having a super majority requirement for decisions that must be made, like the selection of a new Speaker, is just inviting disastrous gridlock.