“Legislative Dysfunction and Political Accountability”

Edward Stiglitz has posted this draft on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The inability of members of Congress to agree on legislation is arguably generating a slow motion crisis in our separation of powers system. Some legislative disagreements reflect genuine differences in policy views, but other legislative disagreements reflect dysfunction — public disagreement despite private agreement. Here, I provide a theoretical account for legislative dysfunction driven by the perverse effects of elections. The intuition is that in a polarized environment, the mere act of agreement with the opposition suggests to voters that the legislator may be misaligned with the district, forcing re-election motivated legislators to disagree even if they know that everyone would be best off with a legislative agreement. Suggestive of this type of dysfunction, Congress has increasingly turned to post-election voting to resolve critical business. I examine the voting behavior of exiting and continuing members during these recent post-election voting periods. Using a differencing approach to address member and congressional unobservables, I find that relaxing the re-election incentive increases the likelihood of agreeing on legislation, particularly for minority party members, and particularly on substantive votes. I conclude with thoughts on institutional devices that might alleviate problems of legislative dysfunction.


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