There is a standard legislative process through which policy proposals are enacted and there is an abnormal policy process as well. Similarly, there are substantive policy outcomes that may be characterized as “normal” and certain outcomes appropriately seen as “abnormal.” The politics of a given issue determine whether, and when, normal or abnormal policymaking prevails. As a result, certain political issues are well suited for effective resolution through the standard policy process, while others cannot be redressed by the normal process, but must be resolved instead through an alternative policy process. Thus, in order to fully understand why the normal process is effective in redressing certain problems, but not others, we must look to the nature of the politics of the issue “at issue.” Issue politics fundamentally drives process and policy.
The purpose of this chapter is to illuminate the dynamic interplay between the politics of an issue, the formal legislative process that attends to it, and the nature of policies designed to deal with the issue. It offers a theoretical framework for understanding and anticipating the conditions under which nontraditional legislative decisionmaking will arise and, relatedly, why it seldom does. The first section describes the basic features and dynamics of normal and abnormal legislative processes. The role that bargaining and consensus play in structuring procedural and policy outcomes is discussed in the second and third sections. The last section explains how the politics of an issue dictate the kind of legislative process attendant to policy issues and also the substance of laws that are produced by those processes. It asks: why do certain issues encounter the normal process and yield normal policy