Making Economic Policy in Congress

By Allen Schick | Go to book overview

9
The Distributive Congress

Allen Schick

The Ninety-seventh Congress ( 1981-1982) produced only 473 public laws, fewer than were enacted by any Congress during the previous sixty years. 1 If not for the lame-duck session held after the 1982 elections, the Ninety-seventh Congress would have yielded less legislative output than any other Congress in the past century.

It has become commonplace to blame the "paralysis of Congress" for the failure of the national legislature to face pressing issues forthrightly and expeditiously. 2 The breakdown of Congress is often attributed to institutional defects, such as rules and procedures that delay legislation and enable members to impede action on bills and a fragmented committee structure that obscures jurisdictional responsibilities and invites conflict. Yet despite these disabilities, Congress moves at great speed when it wants to do so. The same Ninety‐ seventh Congress that floundered for nearly two years managed to overcome inertia and a filibuster during the three weeks of the lame‐ duck session and enact a major highway modernization program along with more than 100 other measures. 3

Why is Congress sluggish during some periods and energetic during others? Why has the number of public laws enacted by Congress steadily declined in recent years? Why does Congress work harder but produce less? Answers to these and similar questions about the performance of Congress cannot be obtained merely by examining its organization and procedures. Congress is the most open of our national institutions, and it is highly sensitive to changing political conditions. If it has become disorganized and ineffective, the main problems lie outside Capitol Hill and cannot be remedied by internal adjustments alone. Congress will not be restored to vigor simply by strengthening party or committee leaders or by easing the flow of legislation through the House and Senate. 4 Members will not adopt institutional reforms that do not respond to their perceived needs.

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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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