What is 'Gridlock'

Gridlock or stalemate occurs in politics, when the government is unable to act or pass laws because rival parties control different parts of the executive branch and the legislature. In the United States, government shutdowns have increased fears that a dysfunctional Congress is in a near-permanent state of gridlock that threatens American democracy.


Congress is considered gridlocked when the number of bills passed by the Senate slows to a trickle, even though there is a packed legislative agenda. In the United States, this lack of legislative productivity has been blamed on the Senate’s arcane voting rules and the U.S. Constitution. Presently, if the Senate Majority Leader can’t get agreement from all 100 senators to move forward on a bill, it can take three days to start working on a bill, and several more days to finish things up — when things run smoothly.

There is little bipartisan agreement on how to overhaul these rules. Talks have focused on eliminating the 60-vote threshold on existing filibuster votes on spending bills – which have not passed into law as intended since 1994. Or the threshold could become a simple majority to prevent the minority party from blocking appropriations bills from debate. It would still require 60 votes to end debate and pass a measure. However, both parties are mindful that any changes that restrict the power of the filibuster could hurt them when they become the minority.

Some political scientists argue that the Constitution was designed to create gridlock by giving power to shape policy to the executive bureaucracy, in an attempt to limit the power of special interests and increase the likelihood that policies will reflect the broader will of the people.

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