POLITICAL ECONOMY (3): U.S. POLITICAL Separation of Power INSTITUTIONS
I. THE NATURE OF INSTITUTIONS Government typically is thought of as composed of the formal institutions and processes through which binding decisions are made for a society. An institution of government (which we call a political institution) is an establishment or organization meeting three tests: A) It pursues a purpose or objective that is legitimate; people think that it is right for them to follow the commands of the institution. Most people would follow an executive order, a law passed by Congress, or a court order —because these institutions are established by the U.S. Constitution.
NATURE (CONT.) B. It possesses adequate power to accomplish its purposes. If, for example, we do not observe laws, we can be thrown in the slammer for awhile. C. It has relative permanence, meaning it is likely to outlast all of us. Institutions occupy buildings (in Washington, D.C., they’re mostly marble) and have addresses. We will look at four institutions briefly: Congress, the presidency, the courts and the federal bureaucracy. Then we will look at economic institutions.
II. HOW FEDERAL INSTITUTIONS BECAME PROMINENT IN THE UNITED STATES A . For the first 150 years, the U.S. had a “limited” federal government. There was no debt to speak of. Military operations were limited, and the U.S. did not have a standing army. Business regulation was left to the states. State politicians were more prominent than federal ones. The national parties followed mostly predictable policies. A chief issue of the nineteenth century was the tarif f, and the Federalist party and its successors (later the Republicans) supported a high tarif f, while the Jef fersonian republicans/Jacksonian Democrats and their successors opposed high tarif fs. B. Three periods in U.S. politics changed the political landscape:
GROWING PROMINENCE (CONT.) 1 . The Depression and New Deal of the 1930s brought the federal government directly into the marketplace. Response to the Depression, particularly to high rates of unemployment, made federal government action legitimate. 2. Crisis and World War II in the 1940s made the federal government the chief consumer of market products and chief regulator. We say that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” meaning that there is little partisan conflict during times of war, and most people believe that whatever the national government does to protect security is legitimate. 3. Ideological and political ferment in the 1960s refocused attention on federal government. In his inaugural address to the nation, John F. Kennedy said:
MORE PROMINENCE (CONT.) “Ask not what the country can do for you; ask what you can do for America.” One year after his assassination in 1963, Lyndon Baynes Johnson (LBJ) won the presidency with the largest margin since the 1930s, promising a War on Poverty and development of a “Great Society.” Meanwhile, the U.S. became involved in yet another Asian war, that quickly drained support for government programs abroad, while cities burned, raising questions about the ef fectiveness of programs at home. C. Simultaneously, restraints on federal institutions weakened, through three interrelated processes:
FURTHER PROMINENCE (CONT.) 1 . Elite and later public opinion demanded federal action — to end the Depression, fight the enemies abroad, put out the fires at home. These demands led to an authorization for higher taxes, which remained high after the crises passed. 2. During the twentieth century, the U.S. Constitution has been interpreted nationally. Previously, the Constitution had been applied to relations between citizens and the federal government only, but not to citizen relations with state/local governments. Court interpretations and federal government actions led to a “nationalization” of individual rights. 3. As federal institutions became more prominent, interest groups developed and focused at the national level — where the resources and power were. The anti-government mood since the “Reagan Revolution” is a direct, conservative response to federal gov’t prominence.
QUESTIONS FOR ANALYSIS OF POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS How are of fice holders recruited to the of fice? How is power organized in the institution? A hierarchy? Equally? Some other method? To what socio-economic forces and interests does the institution respond? What is the time line of the of fice holders?
III. MAJOR POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS: PRESIDENCY A . Recruitment through party nomination at conventions; determined by primaries. National election that presents mediated images to voters; financed by corporate/union donors. B. Patronage appointment to the White House, executive staf f C. Responds to national interests —big business, sometimes, big labor, environmental groups D. Presidential power is greater in foreign than domestic af fairs E. Eight-year agenda of issues; Republican bias to the presidency since 1968
IV. MAJOR POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS: CONGRESS A . A bicameral legislature: House of Representatives and the Senate B. Recruitment through state party nomination determined by primary election or caucuses/conventions; state elections increasingly relying on media and money; Incumbency effect (95 percent in the House; 87 percent, Senate) C. Elaborate staf f system personally loyal to members of Congress D. Responds to state/local interests —highly decentralized E. Internally fragmented. Government through standing committees and their subcommittees
CONGRESS (CONT.) 1 . Committees collect data on topics, check agency budgets, mark-up legislation 2. Bases of committee power: a) they control the flow of information; b) expertise; c) in some cases, Iron triangles of committee chairs, interest groups, government agencies, d) public hearings which usually are focus of attention by media F. In the U.S., “all politics are local” Members of Congress focus on domestic issues They perform “case work” (constituent service) for people whom they represent G. Members of Congress have a generational time line
V. THE COURTS Recruitment through presidential nomination, congressional screening (judiciary committee of the US Senate); undemocratic Limited staf f system. Federal judges are generalists, not specialists. Courts respond to particular cases, and their rulings are based on precedents (stare decisis). To appear in court, one needs to have standing to sue. The American federal courts possess the power of judicial review. This means, as Chief Justice John Marshall said in the early 19 th century, the Supreme Court determines what the Constitution means.
COURTS (CONT.) Interests represented: controversial issues with a national impact, for example the Af fordable Care Act (President Obama’s healthcare reform) Generational timeline, as federal judges serve during “good behavior”
VI. BUREAUCRACY Recruitment: Patronage at the top; merit selection covers most other federal jobs (screening of credentials, tests) Types of bureaucratic agencies: 1 . Cabinet departments a. Clientele departments—USDA, DOI, DOC, DOE, VA b. Service and welfare departments —USDHS, HUD, DOT c. Agencies of control —Treasury, Justice, Energy d. Survival agencies—State, Defense, Homeland Security
BUREAUCRACY (CONT.) 2. Independent agencies a. Independent regulatory commissions (Consumer Product Safety Commission) b. Government corporations (US Postal Service) c. Clientele agencies (Farm Credit Administration) d. Overhead agencies (GSA)c. Interests served: the “captured agency” thesis argues that the business firms regulated by the agency capture it, as in the capture of the old ICC by the railroads, trucking industryd. President and Congress have may ways to control bureaucratic action:
BUREAUCRACY (CONT.) Give good agencies more money; reduce funding to bad agencies Appoint sympathetic chiefs to good agencies; demons to bad agencies Increase or reduce personnel in agencies Reorganize, restructure agencies Oversight by the CongressD. Timeline is generational