The much maligned 111th U.S. Congress will soon come to an end, leaving a legacy of gridlock and rancor despite a prolific legislative record.
In the process of tackling many pressing issues, such as health care reform and the economic crisis, lawmakers exposed the world to a flawed legislative system of backroom deals, outdated rules and procedures, and obsolete committee structures that favored obstruction over deliberation, partisanship over statesmanship, and narrow interests over national objectives.
The inability of the U.S. Congress to address tough problems, both domestic and international, has serious national-security consequences. It prompts both allies and adversaries to question whether a world power with a dysfunctional national legislature can continue to lead on the global stage.
Congress has failed to provide timely and adequate funding for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, delaying programs and hiring, thus diminishing U.S. capacity around the world. It has not overhauled the Foreign Assistance Act since 1985, impeding a coherent approach to overseas programs.
The Senate, in its advice-and-consent role, has held nominees for ambassadorial and national security positions hostage to political interests for long periods of time, depriving the nation of adequate representation overseas and political leadership in government agencies at home. It has chosen to allow treaties — such as the 1994 Law of the Sea — to languish for years, weakening partnerships and alliances in the process.