"Failed state" is the term American officials use to describe places like Somalia or Libya, where there is no effective central government to enforce laws, provide services and protect people.
Who are we to cast aspersions?
Congress has not passed a federal budget in — what, three years? The U.S. Senate recently finally agreed on an immigration bill — a crucial policy matter that Congress could not reach consensus on for a decade. But the House of Representatives, if it takes up the immigration matter at all, promises to start over and come up with a bill that the fragile Senate coalition will not approve. End result: No immigration policy reform of any kind.
Likewise, Congress has failed to pass a farm bill, despite the expiration of the current federal farm policy. This issue involves not only price supports for various farm commodities but also authorizes food stamps (or SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which millions of Americans rely on for food. Without a new farm policy, America could lose its status as a major food exporter.
Last year, Congress failed to agree on spending cuts and thereby allowed punitive spending cuts take effect. These across-the-board cuts are forcing federal employees to take unpaid leave in order to save the government money. This is no way to run a railroad or a government.
"Failed state"? If that means a government that fails to function in the way it was intended, then yes, the United States is a "failed state."
The problem lies in the hyper-partisan brand of politics that has emerged as a result of Internet- and cable TV-based acrimonious, divisive commentaries on both ends of the political spectrum along with the strategic redrawing of congressional districts to increase partisan power. Most congressional districts are now non-competitive — they are either solidly Republican or solidly Democratic. Neither party has much incentive for compromise because compromise will only weaken incumbents' appeal in their politically homogeneous election districts. The emphasis is always on winning the next election, not on working for the good of the country as a whole.
The first step toward fixing this "failed state" is to mandate that all congressional redistricting (required each decade by the Constitution) be performed by nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions, not by state legislators. While it is possible to divide districts down to individual households, natural (rivers, mountains) and political (county and precinct lines) should be followed in drawing districts. That should help elect less strictly partisan representatives.
Second, something must be done about the acrimony in election campaigns and the continual focus on the next election. Without violating the First Amendment's guarantee of free-flowing political speech, the influence of big donors, political action committees and third-party organizations must be muted or countered in a way that will allow representatives to compromise on important issues.