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07 Dynamics of influence in the US.pdf

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Political Science
POLI 101
Paul Quirk

Lecture 07: Dynamics of Influence in the US Poli 320B 2012 Dynamics of influence in the US: Nature of US Institutions 1. The influence of the president is limited and variable. -- Presidential success on legislation is mostly a matter of the composition of Congress: whether members agree with his policies. NOT MUCH ability for presidents to change of minds in Congress. Statistical evidence: presidential success rates on bills are explained by party and ideological strength in Congress. No evidence of differences in frequency of success related to presidential skill or effort. -- Public opinion leadership may be of some importance—mixed evidence. Usually overrated: Presidents don’t move the public very much. Examples: Clinton, Obama health care reform. Many speeches, but public support declines. -- Presidents may not control administrative agencies completely. Congress and interest groups are rivals of the president. -- BUT: The president has nearly unilateral power in some areas (e.g. initial commitment of troops abroad), not others. There are gray areas that pres can exploit: E.g., Obama gives states “waivers” on welfare. 2. The influence of the congressional parties over individual members is limited and variable. Currently very high by US standards; but still less than Canadian. Does a party have a collective strategy on legislation? Sort of—leaders have a preferred strategy. But individuals have considerable autonomy. 3. Decentralized units are powerful: committees (vs whole Congress) and agencies (vs president). A phenomenon of “iron triangles”: alliance of 1) agency, 2) Cong committees with jurisdiction, and 3) interest groups affected by the policy. Result is strong influence of narrow interests. E.g, Dept of Agriculture; Agriculture Committees; and Farm Groups. They agree on programs to subsidize farmers. 4. Policies that involve the states (e.g., Medicaid, education) are very hard to change. Great complexity because any bill has different effects in different states, due to existing policy differences. 5. Constituencies (interest groups, public opinion) may have greater power than other systems—because Congress members are not held responsible for the results. System performance [Read Malloy and Quirk on how the system performs, compared with Canadian Parliamentary system.] Discussion: Note the example of Canada's budget cuts, mid 1990s. The turnaround began with Mr. Chrétien’s arrival as prime minister in November, 1993, when his Liberal Party – in some ways Canada’s equivalent of the Democrats in the U.S. – swept to victory with a strong majority. The new government took one look at the dreadful state of the books and decided to act. “I said to myself, I will do it. I might be prime minister for only one term, but I will do it,” Mr. Chrétien said. Could this happen in the US? ]Why, why not? (See also later discussion.) Discuss now. Come back later. ============================== Exam here Tuesday. Will use scantron forms. Bring No. 2 pencils. Discuss: Agreement reached on the continuing resolution (reopen government) and increasing the debt limit. How to analyze the effect of institutions on the performance of government? Discuss two dimensions of performance: I. Ideological direction and change. How far policy will lie to left or right? And, how much potential for dramatic change—e.g. adoption of major new programs. Or opposite: major cuts in programs? The US political system is generally somewhat prone to delay, or gridlock—inability to act. And when it does act, it generally results in moderate policies—and makes incremental changes. Why? Not because of president: ideology of president can change sharply—e.g., Clinton, to Bush, to Obama. Barrier to dramatic change is need for action by Congress. Parties have only modest discipline—hence need to gain support from moderate members results in moderate policies. In last 10 years, the main barrier to change is more frequent filibustering in Senate—need for 60 votes (of 100). However, this performance depends on the state of parties, esp. a) divided versu
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