With the refusal to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Antonin Scalia, the Senate adds another layer of gridlock in Washington. In the recent past, congressional gridlock has threatened to shut down the legislative process by such maneuvers as creating a faux debt crisis and by regularly assailing the president and the executive branch over so-called job-killing regulations. Through these efforts, obstructionist Republicans have attempted a gridlock hat-trick by trying to shut down each of the three branches of government-at least as far as the headlines go. The political reality, however, is more nuanced, and gridlock is more complicated than commentators often claim-and not to the public benefit.
Nevertheless, gridlock has pernicious consequences not only for the democratic process but also for political and economic equality. The negative effects of gridlock are manifest through the medium of lobbying, which, as I will develop, is becoming a significant political intermediary directly linking private money with the public laws and regulations that affect our daily lives; lobbying is becoming an institutional force of its own and a key contributor to gridlock in Washington.
This article will begin by briefly addressing the concept of gridlock and its effects on government regulation before explaining the troubling practice and law of lobbying. The concept that a countervailing power is needed to reduce the influence of lobbying will also be explained. The paper closes with a discussion of the types of reforms that are available and that can serve as a check on lobbying abuses. As the title of this article indicates, and as the mainstream discussion of Washington often states, it appears that our country is held hostage and, as a result, is experiencing a period of "political gridlock." Therefore, the first question we must pose is whether or not political gridlock exists. The answer is clearly yes and no. To suggest that the country is not in a period of gridlock may appear inconsistent with daily observation, experience, and political punditry. Surprisingly, perhaps, and unfortunately, there is ample evidence that political gridlock does not exist across the board and that its absence is not an unmitigated good for democracy.
Joseph P. Tomain, Gridlock, Lobbying, and Democracy, 7 Wake Forest J.L. Pol'y 87 (2017)