Report abstract: The Task Force Report, Negotiating Agreement in Politics, authored by Jane Mansbridge of the Harvard Kennedy School and Cathie Jo Martin of Boston University, uncovers three mysteries about political deal-making within Congress today: the disconnect between the past and present, the breakdown between mass desires and elite decisions, and the invidious comparisons between the United States and other advanced democracies. While the structural circumstances may pose challenges for successful negotiation, "…50 years of research provides lessons for even the grimmest situations," says Jane Mansbridge. According to Cathie Jo Martin, "…most importantly we investigate the success stories…, and offer a roadmap for how diverse interests might overcome their narrow disagreements and negotiate win-win solutions."
The breakdown of political negotiation within Congress today is puzzling in several important respects. The United States used to be viewed as a land of broad consensus and pragmatic politics, in which sharp ideological differences were largely absent from our classless society; yet today politics is dominated by intense party polarization and limited agreement among representatives on policy problems and solutions. Americans pride themselves on their community spirit, civic engagement and dynamic society, yet we are handicapped by our national political institutions, which often – but not always – stifle the popular desire for political reforms. In part, the separation of powers helps to explain why Congress has a difficult time taking action, but many countries have severe institutional hurdles to easy majoritarian rule and still produce political deals.Certainly the current political polarization, which is not likely to go away soon, creates a very challenging environment for political negotiation. Nonetheless, this very timely Task Force report offers a road-map to effective deal-making for policymakers. Indeed APSA executive director, Steven Rathgeb Smith, further noted that this Task Force Report could very well influence the upcoming policy debate on a host of issues including immigration, health care, farm policy, and social policy.