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7 Policy Control and Short-Term Authorizations “Getting something done between authorizations is a bitch.” —Former transportation lobbyist If short-term authorizations are an important mechanism for agenda and policy control for authorizing committees, then their use should drive when legislative changes do and do not occur. The conceptualization outlined in chapter 3 stated that this mechanism would place a particular policy on the legislative agenda at a specific time for possible modification, legislation would be passed, and then the policy would not be modified again until the next reauthorization. This process ensures that the status quo remains in effect and the policy has an opportunity to be implemented by various stakeholders. By having policies come onto and off of their agenda at specific times, committees are able to wield power within the chamber, affect a given policy domain on a regular basis, and ensure that policy in a given domain can remain stable long enough for success or failure to be established. In this chapter, I test whether changes in an authorization ’s status, media coverage, and hearings influence legislative activity in a given policy area. I specifically consider whether short-term authorizations influence the timing of passage of legislative enactments in Congress, and affect the way in which committees address policy issues. Short-Term Authorizations and Policy Change Short-term authorizations regularize the policy process, allowing change to occur at the time scheduled in the program’s authorization.An individual who works for the U.S. Department of Education noted that if the legislation 86 Hall_CH7_3rd.qxd 8/16/2004 4:53 PM Page 86 undergirding education policy were permanent, it would make the policy process very difficult.“If there were not these reauthorizations,if the programs were permanent, then there would be these disjointed changes to programs that would not fit together into a coherent policy. Otherwise, you would have to pick and pull it apart in order to change anything.”1 Short-term authorizations allow for change to be made coherently at regularized intervals, giving policy players the opportunity to educate members and to shape or reshape a policy’s definition before the issue is addressed in the legislative arena. Scholars interested in policy change are correct to examine hearings and media coverage as being important to policy change. However, an important question is whether these factors lead to meaningful policy change, which typically manifests itself through changes to the underlying legislation . In fact, it is not clear that changes in policy equilibria occurring outside of the reauthorization process lead to changes in the law when there is an existing short-term authorization that is scheduled to expire at some point in the relatively near future. Obviously, hearings do result in learning and can result in changes in a policy’s definition. However, it is not clear that any legislative actions can be taken outside the authorization cycle. In interviews, individuals involved in the federal policy process suggested that reauthorization legislation is typically seen as the primary vehicle for facilitating policy change. One agency staffer noted that “everything needs a vehicle, and the reauthorization bills are the biggest around.”2 Reauthorization bills are especially important for members of the minority party in the House. One minority party staffer who handles education policy noted, “[F]or people in the minority, life is driven by reauthorizations because they are the main vehicles that will come out of committee.” The type of policies that the media and many scholars focus on in their studies may in part influence the lack of focus on the importance of authorizations . Much work has been done with a focus on cases, such as health care reform, where many groups are mobilized in a highly public way in the legislative process.In the case of the 1992–94 health care debate,the argument was over how to create something new. However, as Schick (1983) noted, the normal world of legislative activity is dominated by short-term authorizations. Analyzing Policy Change with Short-Term Authorizations This examination considers whether a specific kind of policy control mechanism —the expiration of a short-term authorization—leads to legislative activity that results in lawmaking by Congress and the president. This last point is critical. As noted previously, there are many things that lead Congress to hold hearings, and scholars such as Baumgartner and Jones 87 Policy Control and Short-Term Authorizations Hall_CH7_3rd.qxd 8/16/2004 4:53 PM Page 87 (1993) have aptly noted that hearings can...


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