Is Government Gridlock the Real Issue?

Conventional wisdom has it that gridlock and partisanship are the twin plagues of politics in America.

But the fact of the matter is that, out of the spotlight, government rolls along as unceasingly as the Mighty Mississippi.

When it comes to improving the health and well-being of our most vulnerable citizens, this grinding reality has its merits. But, for the most part, it smacks of overkill.

For a little context, let’s look at April 15, the day that all taxpayers love to hate.

On Tax Day, the Federal Register ran 259 pages and the Missouri Register ran 107 pages.*

  • Among the items in the federal publication were a notice from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality regarding an information-gathering project about patient-centered outcomes research.
  • The Health and Human Services Department had 14 entries alone in that issue.
  • In Missouri, the Department of Health and Senior Services announced updated sanitation standards for food-service establishments.
  • That issue also included a notice about a proposal to require “all cosmetology establishments to post a color flier regarding the prohibited use of razor-type instruments.”
  • Consider as well that on one day last month that I chose at random, May 23, the U.S. Senate confirmed a slew of judicial and court nominations while both congressional chambers convened nearly 20 committee meetings.

It’s hard to see how anyone could argue that government is at a standstill. Commuters in L.A. would love this kind of gridlock.

(And for those who decry the coarseness of today’s political rhetoric, don’t forget that none other than Thomas Paine criticized George Washington for running a corrupt administration where even “the interests of the disbanded solider was sold to the speculator.”)

So, it’s simplistic and wrong to argue we live in age of government inaction.

At least in Missouri, the same goes for arguments that the Republican-dominated General Assembly is inimical to the needs of the underserved.

On the surface, for instance, safety-net advocates might consider the recently concluded session of the Missouri General Assembly a complete failure. Through that lens, lawmakers abandoned the poor by failing to expand Medicaid and they threatened funding for social services by enacting tax cuts.

But at a legislative wrap-up last week, Partnership for Children, a nonprofit advocacy group, noted a number of wins that included funding increases for a number of early childhood and education programs.

The organization even recognized two Republicans lawmakers for their work on out-of-the-limelight issues that don’t correspond with a liberal’s view of the Missouri GOP as a Tea Party monolith.

State Sen. Wayne Wallingford, of Cape Girardeau, was one of the Republican honorees. He told me that it does not make sense to use the large GOP majority in the General Assembly to ram things through without consulting the Democrats.

“You don’t want to shut them out,” he said. “You want them to have a voice.”

Truthfully, though, we all might be a little better off with less talking on all sides.

Our federal and state codes already bulge with rules and regulations from years and years of legislating. Passing more laws is not the answer to every problem.

How many times have we heard the argument, from both the right and the left, that legislation proposed by their opponents is unneeded? “We just need better enforcement of what’s already there,” they say.

This is not a call to abolish the legislative branch of government. Elected officials need to ensure that laws are current and that they reflect the views of their constituents.

But in an era when many people, especially some observers of the Kansas Legislature, express frustration at the time it takes to simply balance the books, perhaps we’d all be better off if lawmakers just passed a budget and went home.

*Key reference guides in this exercise include the daily rulemaking publications of the federal government and Missouri state government, known respectively as the Federal Register and the Missouri Register.


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