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The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (Institutions of American Democracy Series) Hardcover – August 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Until recently, one could be forgiven for thinking that the present Congress is essentially an arm of the Bush administration, according to Mann and Ornstein, nationally renowned congressional scholars from the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, respectively. Their book argues persuasively that relentless partisanship and a disregard for institutional procedures have led Congress to be more dysfunctional than at any time in recent memory. Looking back to the arbitrary and sometimes authoritarian leadership of Democratic speaker Jim Wright and the Abscam scandals of the 1980s, the authors demonstrate how they presage the much worse abuses of power committed by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. In outlining more than 200 years of congressional history, Mann and Ornstein sometimes allow just a sentence or two to explain the policies and philosophies of an important politician or even an entire party, even as they catalogue deviations from obscure points of procedure in extensive detail. Their book may be useful and enjoyable to the specialist, though recent conservative pushback on issues from the Harriet Miers nomination to warrantless wiretapping and immigration will make some wish the authors had had the opportunity to add a postscript. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Mann and Ornstein are affiliated with different political parties and work at rival Washington think tanks, but they share a fascination with Congress and an abiding dedication to the First Branch's productivity. With this book, they stage an intervention. Over the past 20 years, they assert, legislators have increasingly subordinated earnest deliberation to partisan tribalism, eroding that branch into division and dysfunction. Although careful to remind us that the root causes of this decline lay in an escalating dialectic of majority arrogance and creative rule bending perpetuated by both parties, the brunt of Mann and Ornstein's criticisms are of the current Republican majority. They are not afraid to name names: House Speaker Dennis Hastert, for example, is repeatedly singled out as guilty of putting party before duty. The majority of Mann and Ornstein's analysis, however, examines incremental yet insidious tweaks of congressional procedure: three-day workweeks and innovative methods of arm-twisting. Both a plea for a return to dignified deliberation and a brave discussion of which legislative behaviors need to be changed, this book is timed for the upcoming congressional elections. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Series: Institutions of American Democracy Series
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; annotated edition edition (August 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195174461
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195174465
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 1.2 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,239,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Edwin C. Pauzer VINE VOICE on August 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein bring to light what many Americans don't know, or don't care to know. The legislative branch of government, the House of Representatives and the Senate have long ago stopped serving the constituents they were elected to serve.

In this searing story that will scare the republic out of you, the authors tell how the Congress of yesteryear, the Congress that would negotiate, debate, compromise, represent the will of their constituents, and the best interest of the country, are a dying breed.

They have been replaced by congressmen and women who have allowed lobbyists to write the bills for the special interests they represent. They have cajoled party members to vote strictly along party lines at the expense of constituent representation and independent thought. They have introduced bills hundreds of pages long with little or no time for debate or compromise, let alone time to read its provisions. They have introduced bills late at night demanding an up or down vote. Having complained long and loud about democratic pork, the republican congress has increased "earmarks" from hundreds to the thousands. And this is the laziest congress in years, working less than 100 days a year.

Leading the charge of congressional dysfunction are Sennsenbrenner, Frist, Hastert and Delay. Sennsenbrenner allowed the credit card industry to write the new bankruptcy bill. Sennsenbrenner wouldn't allow any amendments that would have allowed veterans to keep their homes or seniors to keep theirs in the face of astronomical medical bills. Hastert removed a congressman from the Ethics committee because he was investigating Delay. Delay demanded that lobbying firms replace their democrat lobbyists with republican ones if they wanted to be "allowed in.
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful By birdmanct on August 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I just watched a two hour panel on, CSPAN2. The panelists were the two authors, Newt Gingrich, and Tom Foley, the Democrat Speaker of the House before Newt. All were in agreement with the premise of this book: that the House has become a tool of the Executive branch, and has abrogated it's oversight duty. Bills are devised in the dead of night without bipartisan or even intra-party debate, simply to implement White House policy. Leader PACs and fund-raising are the key duties of our representatives. I was shocked to hear that the House has cut its in-session time from three days a week to one, as most members fly into DC on Tuesday night and out on Thursday morning. Most of the time they spend in DC is with lobbyists. This leaves no time for discussion or even reading the bills they are voting on. It leaves no time to get to talk with and to know the other Congressmen, or to hear dissenting views, and leads to the passage of flawed bills and acrimony with their colleagues.

Scariest of all is the invocation of war powers in a war that probably will not end in our lifetimes, at a time when the House, Senate, White House, and Supreme Court are all dominatted by one party. We could be just one terrorist attack away from a dictatorship. This book is a must-read for politicians, political scientists, reporters, and voters. Congress is neglecting its duty, and the American people are neglecting theirs by not voting and by not thinking about the issues that this book raises.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on August 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The "broken branch" Mann refers to is Congress' House of Representatives. He has concluded that a majority of today's Republicans in Congress see themselves more as foot soldiers in the President's army than as members of an independent branch of government. Serious congressional oversight of the executive branch has largely disappeared. This is NOT an exclusively Republican phenomena - arrogance, greed, venality, and condescension towards the minority were significant evidence prior to the Republican takeover in '94; however, since President Bush took office these practices have been raised to new levels.

Passage of the Medicare drug benefit in the House serves as the authors' prime example of abuse. The vote was held open for 2 hours, 51 minutes - far beyond the normal 15 minutes. This extension allowed enough pressure, threats and bribes to achieve passage. (In the 22 years Democrats ran the House after electronic voting, it only happened once - and that in a seemingly justifiable instance. The Republicans did it at least a dozen times both before and after the Medicare vote.) In addition, Democrats were left out of the bill's drafting (as were most Republicans - it was created in a special committee, without hearings), as well as most of the conference committee Democrats. Further, it (like many other key bills) was brought to a floor vote under closed rules (members cannot offer amendments - this has occurred 2-3X as often under Republican leadership), and without time to even read the legislation. There was also the issue of inaccurate cost estimates provided to help sell the bill. The authors then go on to argue that the House has become polarized by extreme gerrymandering that gives inordinate power to extremists in both parties.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have long understood the original terrible sin of Congress, the obscene corruption. I did not understand party line corruption (forcing Members to vote the party line instead of for their constituents until I read Tom Coburns Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders.

This book helped me understand that the third sin is that partisan politics have turned Members into (the author's term) "footsoldiers for the President" and thus a complete abdication of their role as the Article 1 (i.e. first) branch of government.

This book helped me understand that it is the long-serving Members who are often shaking down lobbyists and extorting funds from people, not the other way around, where bribes are offered by the lobbyists.

I read this book after reading David Broder's article in the 8 August 2006 issue of the Washington Post, an article entitled "Contempt for Congress" and summarizing the utter disdain that the Governors--both Republican and Democratic--have for most Members. The Congress is indeed broken and dysfunctional. There is a tide sweeping against all incumbents, regardless of party, in this year.

Hence, as Congress reconvenes on 5 September for one last session ending in early October, it could be quite fruitful for as many voters as possible to read this book and Tom Coburn's book, and demand of Congress two things in this next session: Electoral Reform, and a Public Intelligence Agency independent of both the President and Congress. We have a window for reform. This book is one of two pillars for those who wish to "raise the roof.
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