Things go downhill fast, alas, when she starts with a cheap personal attack (“shopworn founts of conventional wisdom”? Really?) and goes right downhill from there. The truth is that Mann and Ornstein are scholars, and not cheap political hacks. Both are assigned in plenty of college political science courses. And their book The Broken Branch does in fact assign a fair amount of responsibility to the Democrats for why Congress wasn’t working well at the end of 12 years of Republican majorities.
More to the point, however, a listing of things that Democrats have done that annoy Rubin doesn’t get to the problem that Mann and Ornstein are concerned about, which is a dysfunctional political party that the Madisonian political system isn’t well-equipped to handle. Not one that is too conservative, or one that does annoying things, but one that, for example, acts as if having a Republican Member of the House claim that dozens of Democrats are members of the Communist Party is just normal partisan sniping.
At any rate, one of Rubin’s examples is a great one for showing exactly how a dysfunctional party makes governing difficult. She is quick to use the current GOP talking point that “the Democratic majority in the Senate hadn’t passed a budget in three years.” Now, first of all, she’s talking about a (nonbinding, not-actually-a-law) budget resolution, a part of the budget process made moot through last year by passage of the (binding) Budget Control Act. As CRS explains, the budget resolution is only a “framework for subsequent legislative action on budget matters during each congressional session.” If the subsequent legislation passes, it doesn’t really matter much whether they did the budget resolution or not.
But suppose you think it’s important that Congress pass a budget resolution. You know how this started? It was with, you guessed it, the Republicans. In the first two decades after budget resolutions were invented in the 1974 Budget Act, Democrats (and responsible Senate Republicans in the 1980s) managed to pass budget resolutions. And then Republicans won majorities, and all that went out the window. In four of the last five election years in which the Republicans held at least partial control of Congress (1998, 2002, 2004 and 2006), they didn’t pass a budget resolution. That includes three years in which Republicans controlled both chambers.
The problem is that when one party starts playing constitutional hardball (and budget resolutions are only a very minor example; better would be the use of the filibuster, or some of the other examples Mann and Ornstein give), then the other party must choose to either reciprocate or risk getting run over.
And the party that’s been doing that over the last 20 years, and in other ways violating the norms that American democracy needs to function well, is the Republican Party and its apologists. It’s a serious problem, one that both liberals and conservatives should worry about – indeed, one that conservatives should probably worry about more, because it prevents the party they want in office from functioning very well.