Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Separated Powers and Institutional Growth in the Presidential and Congressional Branches: Distinguishing between Short-Run versus Long-Run Dynamics

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Separated Powers and Institutional Growth in the Presidential and Congressional Branches: Distinguishing between Short-Run versus Long-Run Dynamics

Article excerpt

A central feature of the modern presidential and congressional branches has been its institutional development. Growth in the presidential and legislative branches reflect distinct short-run and long-run dynamics. In the former case, Presidents exhibit greater responsiveness to congressional branch efforts than vice versa. However, in the long run a steadystate equilibrium exists, whereby the Presidency cannot permanently exploit Congress. This proposition is empirically tested by applying a Vector Error Correction Mechanism (VECM) statistical modeling approach to analyze constant dollar-branch expenditure data for the 1939-1997 period. The empirical evidence shows that an "opportunistic Presidency" prevails in the short run; in the long run; however, considerable evidence is obtained in favor of an institutional equilibrium consistent with the "iron law of emulation" thesis. On a more general theoretical level, these findings make the novel point that a critical distinction must be made between short-run and long-run dynamics when assessing institutional relationships involving the Presidency and Congress.

Understanding the institutional development of the Presidency and Congress is critical to understanding both the power and effectiveness of these branches. Several studies examine this process in relation to the rise in staff and support agencies used to facilitate administration for these governmental branches (Burke 1992; Fiorina 1989; Fox and Hammond 1977; Hart 1995; Malbin 1980; Ragsdale and Theis 1997; Rourke 1987; Sundquist 1981). Considerable research has focused its attention on this particular dimension of the institutionalization process via branch resources.1 Although this particular item does not serve as a perfect, complete measure of institutional development, it clearly captures an important dimension of this process. Branch resources yield information, expertise, and staff support that enable these institutions to influence bureaucratic behavior better by reducing information asymmetries enjoyed by the latter (Wilson 1989: 259); assisting in legislative construction and policy decisionmaking (e.g., Cronin 1980; Hart 1995); and creating autonomy from other branches of government (Fox and Hammond 1977; Ragsdale and Theis 1997; Sundquist 1981: 407-08).2

Scholars studying both Congress and the Presidency note the importance associated with branch resources. Resource enhancements to a particular branch of government can augment institutional power. Terry Moe (1995: 424), for example, states that "Presidents cannot build a powerful institution with no money" Presidency research finds that professional expertise and institutional memory associated with branch resources produce a sense of rationality and continuity (e.g., Burke 1992: 53, 185; Heclo 1975), and also the means both to centralize and politicize the office (Burke 1992: 185; Moe 1985; Rourke 1987; Weko 1995). Congressional scholars contend that institutional resources enable legislators to acquire additional and independent sources of information, as well as increase the collective capacity of the institution (e.g., Dodd and Schott 1979; Fox and Hammond 1977; Malbin 1980).3

A systematic empirical investigation analyzing presidential and congressional branch expenditures can help us understand the process by which the institutional capabilities of chief executives and legislatures vary through time.4 Is this process due to the changing demands on a given institution that reflect a gradual evolving process from within that is generally thought to be independent of the institutional growth exhibited by competing branches of government (Burke 1992; Fiorina 1989; Fox and Hammond 1977; Malbin 1980; Polsby 1968; Ragsdale and Theis 1997)? For example, a President may seek institutional resources as a means of internally shifting policy priorities or the locus of policy decisionmaking from his predecessor. Does this process instead reflect an opportunistic President who is able permanently to exploit Congress through time (Cronin 1980; Hart 1995; Moe 1995; Rourke 1987; Schlesinger 1973; Sundquist 1981)? …

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