The positions are hardened by deep-pocketed advocacy groups with ideological focuses as intense as they are narrow. Such groups make departing from the party line more dangerous than ever. The increasing amount of money needed to run for Congress also means lawmakers spend more time fundraising and less time studying issues or forging relationships with colleagues, the chassis on which dealmaking is built.
Complicating the impulse to compromise today is the frequency with which Capitol Hill is experiencing "wave" elections. Several electoral drubbings – Democratic triumphs in 2006 and 2008, the Republican resurgence in 2010 – have fed a sense among new members that any concessions on the issues that brought them to power would betray their constituents. While these transformative elections usually happen about once every decade, the recent cluster has created cliques of lawmakers with seemingly narrow mandates to an extent rarely seen in US history.
Members elected in such waves "are really not going to make deals that go against what the people who put them there want [them] to do," says former Rep. Steven LaTourette (R) of Ohio, a centrist. "On 'Obamacare,' you don't hear a lot of the 2010 class say, 'Well, let's save the good parts and jettison the rest.' It's 'repeal, repeal, repeal,' because that was the war drum on the campaign trail."