Reforms at Risk: What Happens after Major Policy Changes Are Enacted

Reforms at Risk: What Happens after Major Policy Changes Are Enacted

Reforms at Risk: What Happens after Major Policy Changes Are Enacted

Reforms at Risk: What Happens after Major Policy Changes Are Enacted


Reforms at Risk is the first book to closely examine what happens to sweeping and seemingly successful policy reforms after they are passed. Most books focus on the politics of reform adoption, yet as Eric Patashnik shows here, the political struggle does not end when major reforms become enacted. Why do certain highly praised policy reforms endure while others are quietly reversed or eroded away?

Patashnik peers into some of the most critical arenas of domestic-policy reform--including taxes, agricultural subsidies, airline deregulation, emissions trading, welfare state reform, and reform of government procurement--to identify the factors that enable reform measures to survive. He argues that the reforms that stick destroy an existing policy subsystem and reconfigure the political dynamic. Patashnik demonstrates that sustainable reforms create positive policy feedbacks, transform institutions, and often unleash the ''creative destructiveness'' of market forces.

Reforms at Risk debunks the argument that reforms inevitably fail because Congress is prey to special interests, and the book provides a more realistic portrait of the possibilities and limits of positive change in American government. It is essential reading for scholars and practitioners of U.S. politics and public policy, offering practical lessons for anyone who wants to ensure that hard-fought reform victories survive.


To innovate is not to reform.

—Edmund Burke

There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of
success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to institute a new
order of things.

—Niccolo Machiavelli

The most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it be
gins to reform.

—Alexis de Tocqueville

ON OCTOBER 22, 1986, lawmakers from both parties gathered on the South Lawn of the White House and applauded as President Ronald Reagan signed into law the most comprehensive revision of the federal tax code in a half century. The landmark Tax Reform Act of 1986 eliminated or curtailed dozens of shelters, loopholes, and other tax breaks enjoyed by powerful corporations and well-heeled investors. By withdrawing tax preferences from a favored few, the federal government was able to sharply lower tax rates for millions of low- and middle-income Americans without increasing the federal budget deficit. While the tax reform law was not flawless, it made the federal tax system fairer and more efficient. At the signing ceremony, Reagan called the Tax Reform Act “the best antipoverty bill, the best pro-family measure, and the best jobcreation program ever to come out of the Congress of the United States.” “At last. It's a day to stop and take unashamed satisfaction in a triumph of the whole over the parts,” editorialized The New York Times. Only a few months earlier, it looked like this historic day would never arrive. Hundreds of highpriced Washington lobbyists worked feverishly to bury the measure in committee. But Senate Finance Committee chairman Robert Packwood (R-OR), Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), and President Reagan came together to defeat the special interests.

For scholars and journalists alike, the importance of general-interest reforms like the 1986 Tax Reform Act goes beyond their substantive policy accomplishments. These stunning reform victories signal that American na-

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