President Barack Obama's two signature first-term legislative victories—the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Act—are the law of the land, but the political battle over their entrenchment continues. The question now is whether these landmark reforms will be consolidated and create a new politics going forward. We develop an argument about the limits of policy feedback to illuminate the obstacles to durable liberal reform in the contemporary American state. We argue that political scientists have paid insufficient attention to the fragility of inherited policy commitments, and that the capacity of reforms to remake politics is contingent, conditional, and contested. Feedbacks are shaped not only by the internal attributes of policies, but also by the interaction between policy-specific characteristics, the strategic goals of officeholders and clientele groups, and the political forces arising from a contentious and uncertain political environment.
This article examines the role of fiscal conservatives in Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal administration. Unlike most existing scholarship on the New Deal, which downplays the importance and complexity of fiscal conservatism in Roosevelt's administration, this article argues that the tradition was crucial to the development of the New Deal state. Through the New Deal, it demonstrates how the histories of liberalism and fiscal conservatism are intimately related. The article focuses on two key advisers—Lewis Douglas, Director of Budget from 1933 to 1934, and Henry Morgenthau Jr., Secretary of Treasury from 1934 to 1945—who were instrumental in making fiscal conservatism a part of President Roosevelt's agenda. While Douglas's rigid orthodox approach eventually isolated him from policy making, Morgenthau's entrepreneurship produced a new vision of moderate fiscal conservatism that could coexist with the New Deal.
There was a period in America when the political science and history disciplines were not that far apart. Both approaches to analyzing civil society had evolved out of an old Anglo-American tradition where these two subjects, along with philosophy and literature, were all considered in relationship to one another. During the formative years of the American research university, which took place at the turn of the twentieth century, both disciplines shared common founding fathers. A classic example was Charles Beard, whose influence spanned both areas of scholarship. Indeed, it was a breakaway faction of the American Historical Association that formed the American Political Science Association.
Medicare features an unusually complex financing design. The Hospital Insurance Trust Fund pays for Part A of Medicare (hospital stays), while the Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund finances Part B (doctor visits, outpatient care, and certain home health services). At a time when Medicare policy is generating debate, this article takes a new analytical look at the origins and consequences of the program's peculiar bifurcated structure. Addressing historians of the U.S. welfare state as well as contemporary health policy reformers, the article focuses on the crucial role of legendary Ways and Means Committee chair Wilbur Mills in Medicare's enactment in 1965. The central theme of the article is that fiscal conservatism and a commitment to budgetary restraint constitute important elements of Medicare's original political understanding. Contrary to analysts who argue that Medicare's financing design has produced "perverse" effects, we argue that it has served a valuable social function by encouraging policy makers to confront periodically the costs of one of the largest and fastest-growing federal programs. An argument can be made that Medicare's original division requires modification in order to integrate health care delivery changes of the past few decades. It is crucial, however, for reformers not to lose sight of the policy goals, including fiscal rectitude, that motivated the adoption of Medicare's bifurcated structure in the first place.
Policy history has straddled two disciplines—history and policy analysis—neither of which has taken it very seriously. What unites those who study policy history is not that they are ”policy historians“ per se, but that they organize their analysis and narrative around the emergence, passage, and implementation of policy. Rather than a subfield, as the historian Paula Baker recently argued, policy history has resembled area studies programs. Policy history became an interdisciplinary arena for scholars from many different fields to interact. While founders hoped that policies would become an end in themselves, rather than something used to understand other issues, scholarship since 1978 has shown that the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, some of the most innovative scholarship has come from social or political historians who have used policy to understand larger historical phenomena. In the process, the work provided a much richer understanding of how policymaking evolved.
“It is a cesspool, it is a source of infection for the body politic,” Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) warned his fellow senators in 1973 about the private financing of elections. “[I]f it doesn't stop, there are going to be good men in this hall right here today who are going down the drain, not that you are guilty, not that you have done anything wrong, but that the public is disenchanted with all of us, and they are going to want somebody new and say I want a fresh one here.” From 1971 through President Nixon's resignation in 1974, Congress enacted the boldest campaign finance reforms in American history, including strong disclosure laws, public financing for presidential elections, contribution and spending limits, and an independent enforcement commission. Despite these reforms, after only a decade under the new laws, citizens still felt that campaign finance was corrupt.
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