Eleventh Hour: The Politics of Policy Initiatives in Presidential Transitions

By David M. Shafie | Go to book overview

2 Lame Ducks and Unilateralism

Despite a limited policymaking role granted by the Constitution, recent presidents have expanded the influence of the office over the policy process through its leadership of the executive bureaucracy. Alexander Hamilton expressed the view that effective governance depends upon presidential leadership of the executive branch. The president’s role as the leader of the bureaucracy is affirmed in Federalist 72: “The administration of government… in its most precise signification… is limited to executive details and falls peculiarly within the province of the executive department.”1 Of all the elected and nonelected officials in the federal government, the president is uniquely burdened with the responsibility for government performance.2 This gives presidents a powerful incentive to politicize the bureaucracy. In that way, loyal political appointees are entrusted to shepherd White House policy proposals from their formulation all the way to the end of implementation.

This chapter maps the growth and development of unilateral action by outgoing presidents over time. Administrative policymaking has become an attractive option for modern presidents to deliver on promises to supporters. In contemporary politics, successful presidential candidates campaign and win office by taking policy positions and making promises.3 Concurrently, modern presidents have a diminished capacity to make significant policy changes because lawmakers are usually deadlocked over contentious issues of social regulation, such as health, safety, and the environment. Agency rulemaking, in particular, is an effective tool of presidential power because it can be wielded strategically to minimize electoral consequences and congressional oversight.


Going it Alone

Recent experience has shown that presidents have the means and incentives to engage in policymaking when they lack congressional majorities or after the presidential honeymoon has ended. Using administrative policy tools differs from a conventional bargaining strategy because these tools allow presidents to

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