For 30 years a report called Vital Statistics on Congress has given the public an assessment of the legislative branch. To the surprise of probably no one, this year’s survey finds the Congress to be more polarized than ever.
Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute jointly analyzed Congressional data and issued the report. Mann said in a video published with the report: “The most striking feature of the contemporary Congress is extreme partisan polarization, which has reached the level not seen in well over a century.”
In 2012, party unity votes in the House stood at 72.8 percent, up from about 54.5 percent in 2006. Roll-call votes in support of the president’s agenda by members of the opposition were below 50 percent.
Not only is Congress sharply divided along party lines, it is more diverse than ever. The current Congress includes a record number of women (96), African-Americans (42) and Hispanics (31), but remains a predominantly white, male institution.
Another glaring finding in the report is the sharp reduction in the number of military veterans serving in Congress. To wit:
• There has been a dramatic decline in the number of veterans serving in Congress over the past half-century. From the end of World War II to the close of the gulf war, the majority of members of the House and Senate had served in the military. But today, barely a fifth of the members of Congress identify as veterans.
• Before 2003, more members of the House said they worked in law than any other sector, besides the military, before winning their seats. Now more members identify as having worked in the business or banking sector, or public service or politics. In the 113th Congress, 187 members said they worked in business and banking, whereas 156 said they worked in law. Only 89 member identify as having served in the military, while 184 said they worked in public service or politics before winning their seats. In the Senate, more members identify as having worked in law than any other profession.
Perhaps it is the diminishment of military veterans that has led, in part, to the partisanship and bickering that dominates the Washington scene. Veterans have always put their country before self — and many of them have had distinguished congressional careers after returning from their military duties.
Whatever the case, Americans have long been fed up with the divisiveness in D.C. This latest report merely validates what we already know: Congress is a mess.