The Politics of Social Welfare Policy
The politics of social welfare policy is the twin of the economics of social welfare policy. Together, the two go a long way to defining a policy's essential features. But what is politics? And how does it interact with social welfare? For most Americans, politics merely means elections, and the inter- action with social welfare policy simply means that a piece of social welfare legislation is voted up or down.
This chapter uses a broader definition. Here, politics means the political actors, institutions, and activities involved in the process of governing. This definition is encompassing. Political actors, for example, include the 435 members of the House of Representatives plus one hundred senators, all the congressional staff people, the different levels of the judiciary, and the ex- ecutive branch. The term also refers to both elected and staff positions in state, local, and county government, as well as the people who try to lobby and influence them. If you have written a letter to an elected official, sent a donation to a group that fights against domestic violence, or joined a dem- onstration for day care, you are part of this process, too.
Many of these political actors staff the institutions that define the U.S. political landscape. The federal, state, and most local governments have ex- ecutive (president, governor, mayor), legislative (Congress, state legislatures, city councils), and judicial (Supreme Court, state court, city/county court) branches. From antitax groups to gay and lesbian activists, single-issue orga-