Julian E. Zelizer: What Happened to Dealmakers in Congress?

Roundup: Historians' Take

Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter," published by Times Books, and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration, published by Princeton University Press.

Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- The troubled negotiations over the debt ceiling have offered yet another reminder of the perilous state of Congress. Republicans and Democrats have found it to be virtually impossible to reach a deal.

At one point, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, simply bolted from the room and refused to come back. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, started his discussions with President Barack Obama by announcing that there would be absolutely no give from the GOP on tax increases.

Congress constantly fosters an environment that is not conducive to bipartisan negotiations. Legislative leaders are reluctant to reach out to the other side of the aisle, knowing there is little chance their opponents will work with them and realizing that anything they say can be used against them in the court of the 24-hour news cycle.

Legislators thrive on a style of confrontational politics where the point of the game seems to be which side can subvert progress more effectively. Either one party has enough muscle to push through legislation on its own, or it's unlikely that any deal will be reached, regardless of the cost to the nation.

There was a time when Congress worked differently. During the committee era, which lasted from the 1910s through 1970s, bipartisan dealmakers were the kings of Capitol Hill. Legislating was seen as an art, and producing policy was the objective....

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