Making Economic Policy in Congress

By Allen Schick | Go to book overview

5
Congress and Redistribution

John Ferejohn


Introduction

Legislation almost always entails some redistribution of wealth. But some proposals are justified by their sponsors primarily on the grounds of their intended effects on income distribution. Such proposals are often controversial because they entail the taking of property from some for the benefit of others; their consideration can therefore cause intense political conflict. Since the constitutional biases of the American system, with its multiplicity of decision stages, tend to work against the enactment of controversial laws, the passage of fundamental redistributive legislation occurs infrequently in American politics. Indeed, if one considers only organic acts, many of the most important redistributive programs were enacted in a few congresses of extraordinary partisan imbalance. The New Deal and Great Society congresses passed legislation authorizing social security, medical assistance to the aged, and a variety of programs of public assistance for the poor and the disabled.

Although the inauguration of many of these programs was politically significant, they have grown to many times their original sizes through the actions (or at least the assent) of congresses that were not so atypical. Once previously controversial programs were established, congressional processes often turned to their routine funding and extension in circumstances that might have allowed retrenchment or even dismantling. 1

The observer of income transfer programs in the United States is struck by two dominant conditions: First, the American system of redistribution is vast and complex. Dozens of programs exist with the purpose of transferring income or services to deserving individuals, and each is administered in some unique fashion in the federal system. Second, despite governmental activity, the effect of redistributive programs on the overall distributions of wealth and

-131-

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Making Economic Policy in Congress
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Making Economic Policy in Congress *
  • Contents *
  • Foreword xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: Congress and the Dilemma of Economic Policy 6
  • 2: Getting, Using, and Misusing Economic Information 38
  • 3: Budget Control in a Redistributive Environment 69
  • 4: The Politics of Subtraction 100
  • 5: Congress and Redistribution 131
  • 6: The Cry-And-Sigh Syndrome 158
  • 7: Tax Policy: Structure and Choice 196
  • 8: Making Regulatory Policy 221
  • 9: The Distributive Congress 257
  • Contributors 275
  • Index 277
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