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The U.S. Congress’ dysfunctional decision-making process

May 20th, 2015
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Picture What are some of the lessons so far from the stalemate on the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate between the Congress and the White House?

The first is that extremely bright and experienced people, Democrats or Republicans, are no less susceptible to organizational barriers to making important decisions than average people.

The fortress mentality of the Democrats to protect against anything the Republicans offer as “holding a gun against our heads” is unproductive. The possibility that one of the Republican’s demands could help to solve the partisan stalemate is unfortunately incomprehensible to the Democratic Party leadership.

The Republican Party’s near messianic goal of scuttling the Affordable Healthcare Act (AHA) is an example of Noble Laureate Herbert Simon’s concept of “bounded rationality, ” which is the individual’s or an organization’s limited perception of facts and circumstances of a reality that is far more complex and multifaceted. The end result is a flawed sense of reality and poor decision-making.

The Tea Party faction of the House Republicans and the Senate are the true believers in this cause. The fervor and single-mindedness of true believers have changed the world for the better. Lynching, police dogs and legal segregation did not stop the leaders and followers of Martin Luther King from winning civil rights for people of color. It has also resulted in tragic consequences, such as the rise of the Nazis in Germany.

Indiana University legal scholar Gerard Magliocca recently argued in the Washington Post that Republicans have the right to lawfully attempt to overturn the AHA, or any legislation that is considered to be the law of the land. The AHA, he asserts, is not settled law, which is legislation that did not have bi-partisan support or broad acceptance from society, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Fair enough. A Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress passed the AHA. The American public remains deeply split on the new health care law. Thus, according to Magliocca, the true believers in the Republican Party have the right to use any legal tactic to delay or stop the AHA.

Does that mean a small but powerful faction of Republican true believers should use their influence to force the adoption of their political agenda at the expense of major negative economic consequences for the United States and the global economy?

The second lesson is that if a groupthink mentality becomes the basis of an organization’s decision-making process then its ability to make rational decisions will be lost. The true believers among House and Senate Republicans stand for a radical, winner take all strategy, which is a total contradiction to the Founding Father’s vision of the legislative process of debate and compromise. The fact that the U.S. economy and potentially the global economy could be severely undermined by their actions is ignored by them.

The last and perhaps the most important lesson is that the time for true bipartisan action to resolve this crisis is long overdue. To do this, Congressional Democrats and Republicans must avoid falling into the same dysfunctional thinking trap as the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party.

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