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November 29, 2013 4:59 PM The Consequences of an Empty Policy Shelf

By Ed Kilgore

At the Plum Line today, Jonathan Bernstein makes a very good point about the inability of Republicans and Democrats to patch together each party’s most popular proposals into a log that can roll through the House and Senate and on to the president’s desk. The Democrats have—at the federal, state and local levels—very popular minimum-wage increase proposals. But the Republicans?

The way these things happen when both parties are healthy is that the popular, high-priority policy preferences of one party are bundled with the popular, high-priority policy preferences of the other. However, what exactly do Republicans have that they need to pass and that Democrats could accept? The Republican policy cupboard is pretty much empty. There are some wild demands (balanced budgets, repealing Obamacare) that Democrats wouldn’t go along with for any price — ideas that wouldn’t really work anyway. Other than those, there’s just very little. I suppose Democrats could trade a solid increase in the minimum wage for cuts in food stamps, but it’s not clear that would be a deal liberals could support — and at any rate, it’s hardly a popular Republican demand, meaning that Democrats would be tempted to just run on the issue rather than accepting what they could get.

That’s the difference between partial and total gridlock. The two parties aren’t on the same philosophical page at all on big issues; Republicans have in any event adopted a permanent strategic of rejecting compromise; and the GOP doesn’t have an arsenal of relatively uncontroversial measures that can be packaged with other relatively uncontroversial measures into the occasional token of legislative success.

So we are in the opposite of an Era of Good Feeling, and as I’ve argued for some time now, if the GOP doesn’t change its ideology, strategy and tactics, we’re doomed to more gridlock unless one party or the other secures effective control of the federal government.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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