Monday, September 30, 2013

Bicameral deadlocks

As I write this, the US Congress is still in deadlock as the two chambers disagree over the budget, with the potential for the federal government to be shut down. Each chamber can claim a democratic mandate (although how an overall minority can veto an overwhelming majority's desire to even debate a measure is interesting - News from ME: Majority Rules, Minority Drools has more about the "the Hastert Rule") and add in the President's democratic mandate and there's not a great deal of progess.

Second chamber reformers here rarely want to give the Lords (or Senate or whatever they want to call it) budget powers but that doesn't mean there's any less of a risk of a deadlock between the two over some other key legislation. It's often forgotten that when the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was dismissed there were no less than twenty-one pieces of legislation other than supply in formal dispute between the two houses, or that the previous year key legislation such as universal healthcare insurance had only been got onto the statute book through the nuclear option of a snap "double dissolution" election of the whole parliament. It may be budgets in one place and time and healthcare in another and doubtlessly a different issue in a third but the problem remains that when multiple elements in the system claim separate democratic mandates the result can be a recipe for gridlock and chaos.

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