Taking the Initiative: Leadership Agendas in Congress and the "Contract with America"

By John B. Bader | Go to book overview

5
Six Leader Goals, Six Case Studies

I will test the goal-issue matching model on specific, historic instances of priority-setting in the next three chapters. In the first of these chapters, case studies for each of six leader goals (highlighting party differences, finding bipartisan agreement, deferring to others, promoting congressional independence, proving competence, and providing policy leadership) will show both the range of phenomena and the depth of their complexity. While chosen to be illustrative, these six cases are also broadly representative. They cover all five of the studied congresses (91st, 94th, 97th, 100th, and 101st) and a wide variety of policy areas (taxes, budgets, environment, social welfare, transportation, and housing).

The case studies help to make a basic argument: although every leader goal has a principal issue characteristic associated with it, such as having a strong entrepreneur when showing deference, leaders tend to look beyond that for evidence that the issue will help them achieve their goals. Issue "profiles" tend to be complex, involving a number of dimensions that leaders consider in toto. If several dimensions fit the profile suggested by a strategic goal, they create a convincing sense of convergence. Party leaders need to be convinced that an issue will further their goals because setting priorities is a risky business. They stake their fragile reputation and limited resources on these priorities, and so they demand ample evidence that they have made the right choice. Such evidence comes only when a number of issue dimensions all support a strategic end.


LEADER GOAL 1—HIGHLIGHT DIFFERENCES
WITH THE OTHER PARTY

Majority party leaders often choose priorities in divided government to advance one of two partisan goals: highlighting differences with the other party or showing bipartisan agreement. The goal of highlighting differences is a natural and common one in a system of separated powers and partisan control of institutions. In divided government, those who control Congress have an incentive to keep their policy positions clearly delineated from the president and his fellow partisans

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