Domestic Policy Making

By Light, Paul C. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Domestic Policy Making


Light, Paul C., Presidential Studies Quarterly


Presidents have been making domestic policy since George Washington appointed the nation's first postmaster general. But as the institutional presidency has grown with the passage of time and crisis, presidents have become increasingly active as agenda setters, decision makers, coalition builders, and implementers of a much larger portfolio of federal domestic policies. By the 1950s, the textbook image of a presidency-centered government was in full blossom, and expectations for presidential leadership of domestic policy were at what appears to have been a twenty-year post-World War II peak (see Cronin 1975).

The prevailing wisdom today is that this presidency-centered vision of policy making was an inappropriate reading of both constitutional intent and legislative reality. Few scholars have made the revisionist case more effectively on constitutional grounds than Jones (1994): "Focusing exclusively on the presidency can lead to a seriously distorted picture of how the national government does its work," he warns in his award-winning assessment. "The plain fact is that the United States does not have a presidential system. It has a separated system" (p. 2). As Jones argues, a president's impact on the domestic agenda is limited by resources, advantages, and strategic position. Some presidents enter offices with greater opportunity, some with less, but all are bound by constitutional checks and balances. To expect the president's agenda to remain dominant year after year is to ignore the normal ebb and flow of power built into the very fiber of the federal system.

At the same time, few have made a more rigorous critique of the presidency-centered approach on the basis of legislative realities than Edwards and Wood (1996). Surveying a vast inventory of presidential activity, the two argue that presidents do more following than leading when they set the policy agenda. Paying attention to the media and events is hardly surprising, according to Edwards and Wood, "because presidents have limited institutional resources and do not desire to be influential on all issues. As risk averse actors, however, they are ever watchful and respond when other institutions deem and issue worthy of greater consideration" (p. 26).

None of the revisionists suggest that the presidency is irrelevant to domestic policy, of course. Bond and Fleisher (1990) argue that "a president's greatest influence over policy comes from the agenda he pursues and the way it is packaged" (p. 230). Jones (1994) notes that presidents retain "significant influence in setting priorities, certifying certain issues, proposing policy solutions, and reacting to policy initiatives of others (such as those increasingly offered by more policy-active members of Congress)"(p. 181), and the ubiquitous Edwards and a second coauthor Barrett (1998), conclude their analysis of 268 presidential proposals by acknowledging that "the president is very successful in obtaining agenda space for his potentially significant legislative proposals.... Once on the agenda, 40 percent of presidential initiatives become law, nearly twice the rate of congressional initiatives" (p. 19).

Rather, the revisionists merely suggest that a president's influence is more conditional than some researchers, including myself, may have suggested in past studies of the modern record. As I acknowledge in the preface to the third edition of The President's Agenda (Light 1999a), the "twenty years covered in the first edition of this book seemed like a very long time to me in 1980." But in doubling the number of years covered in the analysis,

   this third edition provides a very different portrait of the agenda-setting
   process.... It is entirely possible, as I argue in the new chapter that
   caps this edition, that there is less room today for policy innovation as
   new party politics, budget pressures, and demographic destiny work their
   will in constraining presidential imagination. … 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Domestic Policy Making
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.