Sunday, October 12, 2008

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: Chapter 3, "New Rules for Radicals"

Six rules that explain how Republicans make major changes in public policy with very small majorities despite widepsread public opposition.

1. Control the agenda.
Control of both houses of Congress means being able to decide which measures are even considered. This can mean either pushing legislation which doesn't have broad public backing at all (Social Security privatization) or preventing more popular alternatives or amendments from being considered (censure vs. impeachment for Clinton, many amendments to the bankruptcy bill, conservation vs. energy company subsidies).

2. Control the content of legislation.
The example used is Medicare Plan B (prescription drug coverage), in which a more popular Senate plan was frozen out of a final vote by stacking the reconciliation committee. It's debatable how different this is from the first rule.

3. Make changes surreptitiously.
Many goals can be achieved either in legislation that draws little attention or by even less conspicuous executive orders. Examples: workplace safety deregulation (executive action and little noticed Congressional action), removing overtime pay protections (executive action with Congressional response squelched by agenda control), and environmental deregulation (executive action).

4. Stall needed changes or reauthorizations.
Preventing renewal of assault weapons ban. Stonewalling an update of the minimum wage. Stifling expansion of public health care initiatives.

5. "Starve the beast:" tax cuts now to force spending cuts later

6. Tilt the playing field -- change the rules of political competition to favor Republicans.
Mid-term redistricting. Threats to nullify Senate filibuster by parliamentary procedure.

These methods don't necessarily work with issues that are highly publicized or when opposition is well-organized.

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