Jack Bonner and Howard Marlowe
We are putting Congress, interest groups, and lobbyists under a microscope at a very historic time. Today's Congress is doing things that have not been done before, and interest groups have had an important role in this development. We can gain insights into the roles of interest groups in contemporary congressional politics by drawing lessons from American political history. We can also deepen our understanding of how Congress and its members behave by trying to put ourselves into the mind-set of a typical member.
Health-care reform is the epitome of special interest politics. This issue has been on the political agenda for a long time and played up by every group in town. Some turn up the rhetoric to make it seem like a life-anddeath matter. Once President Clinton took office, "inside the Beltway" special interest groups--the ones that most people in Washington pay so much attention to--were making the case for health-care reform, leading everyone to presume it was going to pass. Yet, what members of Congress began to hear from some interest groups and citizens back home, some of whom wrote in spontaneously, was distinctly out of step with what they were hearing from many high-powered Washington lobbyists. As members received more messages from constituents expressing their fear about what might happen to the nation's health-care system, they began to withdraw their support for the president's program. Consequently, this major policy proposal, which would have affected one-seventh of the nation's economy, was defeated. And, it was killed entirely. Other major issues, such as welfare reform and the budget, would be subject to compromise, but health