U of M Professor: We Have No Reason to Believe Bipartisanship is Good

The frequent prescription for the ills of the U.S. Congress is more bipartisanship, but we have no definitive reason to believe this, according to University of Michigan professor, Dr. Charles Shipan.

Many Americans believe that the country’s political landscape is void of bipartisanship due to increasing polarization. It is thought that our congressmen only look to further their party’s interests and refuse to cooperate with political opposition on constructive legislation.

The frequent prescription for the ills of the U.S. Congress is more bipartisanship, but we have no definitive reason to believe this, according to University of Michigan professor, Dr. Charles Shipan, who spoke at an event hosted by the campus College Republicans on September 21. Dr. Shipan, a professor of political science and public policy, also contends that there is little evidence to support our perception that bipartisanship is absent from American politics.

Based on his own research, Dr. Shipan alleges that the sentiment that Congress should return to the bipartisan nature of its past is unfounded, as the level of bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress has remained constant over the last four decades. Citing a study conducted by Dr. Laurel Harbridge Yong of Northwestern University, Dr. Shipan states that the volume of bipartisan co-sponsorship on proposed bills has been steady for decades.

Bipartisanship is not needed to pass important legislation in Congress, despite the common belief that it is.”

The guest speaker proceeded to explain that bipartisanship is not needed to pass important legislation in Congress, despite the common belief that it is. Referencing a study analyzing the nature of bills passed by Congress, “… it turns out that it is consistent over time. You get a number of major laws passed that are bipartisan, in the past and now, and a number that are partisan, in the past and now,” stated Dr. Shipan.

Despite the common belief that our current Congress is too gridlocked to accomplish anything, Dr. Shipan cites a recent bill passed by Congress to reform Medicare, and the passage of a $305 billion dollar infrastructure bill as evidence that Capitol Hill is indeed functioning properly.

Responding to the assumption that bipartisanship helps craft better laws, Dr. Shipan stated that in many cases, instead of compromising upon a balanced and effective bill, congressmen will insist on their political agenda “necessities” being included in the legislation. This often results in a bill with provisions that do not align, “… so you get these Frankenstein-monster sort of bills with no consideration of if they fit together.” In a coded analysis of legislation passed by Congress and enacted into law, Dr. Shipan claims that there is zero evidence that bipartisan bills are amended less frequently than partisan legislation.

Furthermore, Dr. Shipan stated that the call for an increase in bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress implicitly assumes that we need more laws. People that desire more bipartisanship in Congress should consider if more legislation would actually be beneficial for the country.

People that desire more bipartisanship in Congress should consider if more legislation would actually be beneficial for the country.”

Dr. Shipan concluded his talk by offering the alternative perspective that bipartisanship is not inherently bad, despite its lack of value. He conceded that bipartisanship could help “… increase the odds of adjusting policies as conditions change,” citing policies on financial markets as an example. The speaker continued to speculate that the potential bipartisanship deficit in Congress has increased the power of the executive branch under presidents George Bush and Barack Obama. It could be argued that if Congress did more, the executive branch would be curtailed.

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About Cole Carnick

Cole is a senior at the University of Michigan, studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Michigan Review. He can be contacted at carnick@umich.edu, or on Twitter @ColeCarnick.