Conflicting Ideologies Lead to Gridlock Amongst GOP in Washington, Madison

Jul 3, 2017

Republican lawmakers at both the state and federal level are hoping to break through the gridlock when they resume work later this month on key pieces of legislation. Despite their majorities, Republicans haven’t been able to see eye to eye.

Take Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson -- one of the lawmakers slowing the Senate GOP effort to replace the Affordable Care Act. He expressed concern over his colleagues' plan last week.

“The bottom line is, we can do this but we need the information. The problem with Washington D.C. is we talk policy, absent and void of information and that was my problem with the process,” he said.

Johnson said he needed more details and didn’t want to rush the bill through before the 4th of July break.

UW-Milwaukee Political Scientist Kathleen Dolan says there are a couple reasons why the party in power in Washington appears to be in disarray. She says one is Republicans are breaking along different philosophical lines, causing them to clash on some issues.

“The main divides are really between those people who you would think of as much more conservative, maybe still a little Tea Party oriented and the relatively small number of moderates who remain within the party caucus,” she says.

Dolan says it’s not unusual for the party in power to have ideological disagreements. She says it happened among Democrats in 2009, when President Obama first took office.

“Developing and passing the Affordable Care Act took over a year, there were lots of negotiations within the Democratic Party between the more liberal wing and the more moderate wing. So, even when you have complete control of the presidency and Congress, it doesn’t mean things happen quickly,” she says.

Another reason some GOP members put the brakes on the health care bill, at least for now -- they’re concerned about the 2018 midterm elections. That’s according to Christopher Murray, who teaches political science at the Les Aspin Center for Government in Washington, D.C.

“All of these members of Congress are going to have to answer to constituents, many to whom are now going to lose something and something very tangible to them. And so, to do that quickly without a lot of information about what the implications might be, is going to be really difficult for members to accept,” he says.

Washington isn’t the only place where the party in control is at odds. Here in Wisconsin, Republicans in the Legislature are sparring over the two-year state budget. In particular, lawmakers are grappling over a $1 billion deficit in the transportation fund.

UW-Milwaukee Professor Mordecai Lee, a former legislator, says just like in Washington, ideological differences within the GOP are to blame.

“What we are seeing from the governor and the state Senate is, absolutely no increase in the gas tax and no increase in the annual fees. And then on the other hand what we are seeing in the Assembly and especially from Speaker Vos is a more moderate and pragmatic conservatism, where he’s saying it’s not fiscally responsible to borrow money for infrastructure projects,” he says.

Because of the disagreements, the budget process is behind schedule; it was technically supposed to be completed by June 30. Yet Lee says there's no incentive for lawmakers to get their work done in a speedy fashion. He says there are no real consequences if passage of the budget is delayed a few more weeks, as state government would continue to operate at current funding levels.