Warning: Gridlock Ahead?

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While most are probably focusing on predicting Tuesday's victor, CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver reflects on what a tight race might mean for governance out of Washington in the near future. An archive of The Braver Line is available. Rita Braver's email address is rbc@cbsnews.com.
Promises, promises. Oh, we've heard so many: saving Social Security, prescription drug coverage for seniors, tax cuts for everyone, or just some of us, and the list goes on. But we've spent so much time thinking about who will win the White House and Congress that we may not have stopped to consider what happens when they get there. How they will govern?

Not to worry. Stuart Rothenberg, who writes a nonpartisan political newsletter, has been reflecting for us. Unfortunately, he is forecasting stormy weather in Washington. Rothenberg's thesis is that no matter who wins the presidency, or the House and the Senate, not much is going to happen. The margins of victory are likely to be so close, he explains, that no one will really have a commanding majority. "That is not a presciption for a dynamic government; it is a prescription for gridlock," Rothenberg predicts.

Gridlock? Does he mean more cranky and cantankerous congressional sessions like this one, where Republicans, Democrats and the president obviously can't stomach each other, where outrageous little riders are slipped into bills as if there's an deliberate effort to dynamite any deal, and where special interest groups seem to keep anything from being accomplished in the national interest. Yep, that's what he means.

Even if there's a Republican sweep of both houses of Congress and the presidency for the first time since Dwight Eisenhower was elected, Rothenberg is still predicting "they're not going to be able to get anything done next Congress."

"The differences of opinion on how to handle health care, Social Security and taxes are too diverse," he says.

But there is one little ray of sunshine. It turns out that we may like gridlock - really. Remember the 1992 election when Bill Clinton was elected in part by promising universal health coverage. And remember what happened when the Bill and Hillary plan moved from promise to possibility? What happened was that we got scared.

And Professor Charles Stewart, who teaches political history at MIT, says that there are not "enormous majorities of Americans wanting to strike out in a radical new direction. There are a few issues that people get bothered about and angry about, but by and large, people are satisfied with the status quo."

Satisifed or not, that may be what we've voted for.