Too Many Checks, No Balance: Partisan Brinkmanship or a Shrinking Presidency as the New Normal?


Wednesday, November 6, 2013, 4:10pm to 5:30pm


Malkin Penthouse, Littaeur Building, 79 JFK St, Cambridge, MA

White HouseTom Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press, David King, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, and Archon Fung, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship (Moderator)

About the Event
Coming close on the heels of the recent federal government shutdown and narrowly avoided default, this discussion will explore the relationship between the president and Congress. What have we learned from recent events about the shifting nature of power between the executive and legislative branches? How have different presidents, in relation to Congress, approached leadership and authority; negotiation and compromise? Is partisan brinksmanship the new norm both in Congress and in the relationship between the president and Congress? What is driving the gridlock? Where is the greatest potential for change? What can individual citizens do?

Read more about the event in the Harvard Crimson (November 7, 2013): Kennedy School Professors Discuss Causes of Congressional Gridlock.

Read the Challenges to Democracy blog post about this event

Watch a Video Recording of the Event

Listen to an Audio Recording of the Event

About the Speakers

Thomas E. Patterson is Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press. His latest book is Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism. His book The Vanishing Voter looks at the causes and consequences of electoral participation. His earlier book on the media’s political role, Out of Order, received the American Political Science Association’s Graber Award as the best book of the decade in political communication. His first book, The Unseeing Eye, was named by the American Association for Public Opinion Research as one of the 50 most influential books on public opinion in the past half century. He also is author of Mass Media Election and two general American government texts: The American Democracy and We the People. His articles have appeared in Political Communication, Journal of Communication, and other academic journals, as well as in the popular press.

David C. King is Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at The Harvard Kennedy School and Faculty Chair of the Masters in Public Administration programs. Professor King chairs Harvard’s Bi-Partisan Program for Newly Elected Members of the U.S. Congress, and he directs the Executive Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government. Since joining the Harvard faculty in 1992, Professor King’s courses have focused on Legislatures, Political Parties, and Interest Groups. Professor King is the author, co-author, and co-editor of three books, and he has published in a range of journals, including The American Political Science Review and The Journal of Politics. In the wake of the 2000 presidential elections, Professor King directed the Task Force on Election Administration for the National Commission on Election Reform, chaired by former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Archon Fung is Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship. His research examines the impacts of civic participation, public deliberation, and transparency upon public and private governance. His Empowered Participation: Reinventing Urban Democracy examines two participatory-democratic reform efforts in low-income Chicago neighborhoods. Current projects also examine initiatives in ecosystem management, toxics reduction, endangered species protection, local governance, and international labor standards. His recent books and edited collections include Deepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance; Can We Eliminate Sweatshops?; Working Capital: The Power of Labors Pensions; and Beyond Backyard Environmentalism. His articles on regulation, rights, and participation appear in Political Theory; Journal of Political Philosophy; Politics and Society; Governance; Environmental Management; American Behavioral Scientist; and Boston Review. Fung received two SBs and a Ph.D. from MIT.

Reading List
Politico, Should Democrats throw John Boehner a lifeline? (Tom Patterson): “These Republicans benefit from the “Hastert rule,” named after Dennis Hastert, who preceded Boehner as speaker. The informal directive holds that no speaker shall bring to the House floor any legislation not supported by a majority of the majority party’s members. It’s not a binding rule, but, if Boehner were to ignore it on a contentious bill, he would face a palace revolt.”

RadioBoston, What Does The Government Shut Down Accomplish? (audio): David King discusses brinksmanship from perspective of Congress.

New Yorker, Impeach Obama! (Hendrick Hertzberg): “The President is constitutionally sworn to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” but if he enforces the debt ceiling, established by one law, he cannot meet obligations that other laws command him to fulfill.”

The New York Times, Taking the Hill (Matt Bai): “The first senator elected directly to the Oval Office since 1960, Obama has an entirely different theory of how to exercise presidential power, and he has consciously designed his administration to avoid Clinton’s fate.”

Salon, Dear Nobodies (Michael Lind): “As you may know, in our system the voters do not choose the government; the government chooses the voters.”

New York Times, Senators Near Fiscal Deal, but the House Is Uncertain (Michael D. Shear and Jeremy W. Peters): “There have been other showdowns between Republican lawmakers and President Obama that went to the last minute; in 2011, lawmakers reached a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling two days before officials said a default was possible, resulting in a stock market plunge and the downgrading of the nation’s credit rating.”

Council on Foreign Relations, Balance of War Powers: The U.S. President and Congress (Robert McMahon): “The U.S. Constitution gives Congress and the president different responsibilities over military action, but there have long been disputes about where one’s war powers begin and the other’s ends.”