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1 Policy Periodicity Lawmaking is typically seen through the lens of pressure politics, partisan politics, and contingencies. Policies pass or fail because of interest groups’ activities, manipulations by political parties, or because legislators are playing catch-up in the aftermath of a traumatic event, such as September 11th. This type of legislative activity often gets a large amount of coverage and attention, and to the casual observer, most legislative activity may seem to happen this way. Much like ESPN Sports Center—which highlights the slam dunks, home runs, and spectacular football plays—the political media and political scientists often cover lawmaking in the same way, emphasizing the big events. And of course, sometimes Congress does work this way,1 yet there are also many regular and predictable cycles in the legislative process, such as elections and budgets and appropriations. This book explores the least understood of these cycles: the strategic use of short-term authorizations. Large parts of the domestic and international policy agenda appear on the legislative agenda at regularized intervals. The annual defense authorization is an obvious case in point, but any legislation with a short-term authorization —that is, a funding authorization or actual policy authorization that is for only a limited time—will necessarily return to the legislative agenda to be reauthorized. Scholars have been studying aspects of reauthorizations—the term used for the renewal of a short-term authorization—for some time. Anyone who has examined the distribution of transportation projects (e.g., Evans 1994), regulatory policy (e.g., Baumgartner and Jones 1993), education policy (e.g., Chubb 1985), or defense policy (e.g.,Art 1985, 1989) in the last twenty to thirty years has studied a reauthorization. From this, we have learned much about the dynamics that dominate single reauthorizations. However, we know little from systematic study about how or why Congress uses this procedure, which brings issues again and again back on the congressional radar. 1 Hall_CH1_3rd.qxd 8/16/2004 4:51 PM Page 1 This book is about something very simple yet very important for understanding how Congress works—and how policy is made in Washington— year in and year out. It is about how Congress controls the timing of policy change and how it builds into many of the laws it passes a simple mechanism for ensuring that the specific policy that the law covers will be revisited by Congress at a future point in time. It is about short-term authorizations and program reauthorizations. Short-term authorizations vary in their length, form, and function. In this book, I examine these variations and consider how their use can help explain a variety of behaviors in Congress, from the timing of legislative action to the forms of oversight committees undertake. Studying short-term authorizations is not some theoretical exercise, a model of a hypothetical event that is interesting only because it occurs occasionally. Short-term authorizations drive Congress; just ask President George W. Bush’s Senior White House Adviser Karl Rove. Now comes word that [Karl] Rove [senior adviser to President Bush] . . . has asked all of the Cabinet agencies for lists of any legislation that will expire before Bush’s term ends in January 2005. . . . Rove’s request is an effort, as a White House official said, to see “what issues might be driving the congressional agenda” in the future—and by extension, Bush’s political prospects in November 2004 (Milbank 2002). Many key reasons for studying short-term authorizations can be found in this excerpt. Their use covers the policy landscape—few cabinet departments or regulatory agencies escape having some programs covered by short-term authorizations. They drive the congressional agenda. They affect the political prospects of the White House and members of Congress, who are able to shape policy debates, the distribution of benefits , and the way in which the federal government—and all policy actors who touch the federal government—operates into the future. And, until now, no one has focused on how this simple feature of the legislative process drives the policy debate on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Consider the following case, which highlights the dominance of shortterm authorizations on the legislative landscape. Education Reform 2001: Where’s “Head Start”? During the 2000 presidential campaign, President George Bush pledged to reform the nation’s elementary and secondary education programs. One component of his reform agenda was to dramatically change the federal Chapter 1 2 Hall_CH1_3rd.qxd 8/16/2004 4:51 PM Page 2 Head Start...


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