Analysis And Assessment Of Baumgartner & Jones Agendas And Instability In American Politics I find a certain amount of difficulty when I attempt to offer an assessment of Baumgartner and Jones work, Agendas and Instability in American Politics. The reason for this is because the book is written in such a manner that it is enormously difficult to offer a conflicting argument to the model they use to describe how issues become part of agenda, the power of interest groups, policy monopolies, how power shifts, and other issues related to the aforementioned. For this reason, I must say that I find their model to be on solid ground. The previous reading assignments in this course which where mostly based on the writings of C. Wright Mills and his protg Robert Dahl read like the thoughts of writers who were desperately trying to convince the reader that they are right. To the contrary, Baumgartner and Jones made no real attempts to sell their research and rather presented their findings and beliefs in a way that seems to say to the reader that this is the way things are.
Examples of legislative activity that seem to conform to their model offered to the readers of Baumgartner and Jones are presented in a way that basically shows the reader how their model translates into real life as opposed to an offering of evidence to bolster the correctness of their assertions. The notion of policy monopolies I find to be a very believable concept when describing the formulation, definition and promotion of issues in the American political agenda. Making an issue a taboo or untouchable or dangerous to national security, thus ensuring its longevity, perhaps even immortality. This phenomenon is most visible in the issues of Medicare and Social Security. Both programs are in deep financial trouble, but anyone who advocates even the slightest bit of change in either program is immediately labeled an extremist who lacks compassion for our nations senior citizens or a radical who is trying to move our country towards socialism.
I am especially fond of two principals in the Baugartner and Jones model; issue definition and changing venues. Like most of Baumgartner and Jones work, when I attempt to scrutinize it, I find a virtual impossibility in offering a competing theory. When examining issue definition, I discovered that defining or attempting to define issues (sometimes referred to as spinning) is something I have witnessed on countless occasions. In fact, when I was a novice campaign strategist and lobbyist, I engaged in this practice without knowing there was a legitimate noun for what I was doing. Baumgartner and Jones contend that interest groups, institutions, politicians, and the like attempt to define an issue in a way that serves their interests.
An example of this that immediately springs to my mind was a speech delivered by President Bill Clinton in early 1993 to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) concerning the reforming of Medicare. President Clinton proposed a slowing of the rate of growth of the program to roughly twice the rate of inflation as a means of keeping the program solvent. Medicare was experiencing and continues to experience such an astronomical rate of growth that it cannot possibly remain solvent without a massive increase in taxation and/or a significant amount of borrowing from foreign nations adding to our already inconceivably monstrous national debt. Naturally, there was some skepticism about his plan as there is with every idea that would enact a change to an existing government program. Additionally, there was a heavy distrust of Clinton by the AARPs rank and file members after his tax increase on Social Security benefits. The growing concern amongst senior citizens was that the president was going to cut Medicare. In his speech to the AARP, Clinton jostled those who accused his plan of amounting to a cut by saying, Only in Washington can an increase of twice the rate of inflation be called a cut.
In the end, a Democratic Congress kept the Presidents plan from ever seeing the light of day. Fast forward to early 1995, a newly seated Republican Congress began to debate a Medicare proposal that all but mirrored the Presidents 1993 proposal, with the exception that leftover surpluses would be used for tax cuts instead of new spending. The President and Congressional Democrats took to the airwaves to decry the Republican plan to cut Medicare. The issue was the same and the plan was the same, the actors just chose to frame or define the issue differently to serve their interests. Secondly, the issue of changing venues is one that I found very enlightening. In chapter 10 of Agendas and Instability in American Politics, Baumgartner and Jones describe Congress and congressional committees as a jurisdictional battlefield (Baumgartner ad Jones, 194).
David King refers to the rivalries over jurisdictions as turf wars. In his own words he states that turf and the power that goes with it defines a legislative committee. Jurisdictions are property rights over issues. They distinguish one committee from another, they attract legislators to certain panels and they set boundaries for what politicians can and cannot do (King, 1-2). Committees have been described as little legislatures (Groseclose and King, 1) and committee chairpersons wield enormous power, which is why party leaders dangle committee memberships to members they are trying to influence. One such example would be the offer by Democratic Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) of a position on the House Appropriations Committee to Bernard Sanders (I-VT) in exchange for remaining in the House of Representatives and abandoning a run for the U.S.
Senate (Graff, 1). By claiming jurisdictions over new issues, a committee increases its power and the chairpersons power grows as his or her committee finds itself with jurisdiction over more and more issues. The downside I see to this arrangement is that as committees try to lay claim to more and more jurisdiction, eventually more than one committee will try to lay claim to the same issue, creating the possibility of a jurisdictional battle or turf war. Interest groups will naturally try to influence committees that are friendly to their interests to lay claim to issues that are important to them. Additionally, if one subscribes (as I do) to the countermobilization theory put forth by E.E.
Schattschneider, we will see opposing groups attempting to see that the committees that are not friendly to the opposition group lay claim or retain jurisdiction over the issues that benefit them to the chagrin of the first group. What could result is what I would call a legislative cockfight with the committee chairpersons in the ring and the interest groups outside cheering. Meanwhile, the minority party in Congress will be quick to expose the party that holds committee chairmanships as being bogged down with party infighting and ignoring the peoples work. My criticism of Baumgartner and Jones is that, in my opinion, their model is just too simple, too cut and dried and void of any upset or turmoil. Although pluralism seeks to minimize conflict anyway, their work seems to envision the American public as a homogeneously thinking mass. They appear to put forth the idea that what ever the media says, the public will believe without question and that whichever interest happens to have a policy monopoly at the time the public will march in lockstep with their will.
I discount that notion and believe that the public is a diverse an unpredictable mass that will scream for tax cuts one month and then say never mind tax cuts, fix Medicare the next. Sam A. Carnes phrases it best when he says that the public is made up of many publicsand may bring competing demands to those entrusted to make decisions (Carnes, 2). Baumgartner and Jones lay out a perfectly believable model for the process and I do believe that the majority of what they say is completely accurate. However, the way they present their model creates an illusion of ease and changing the way things operate in the American system of politics is anything but easy. Bibliography 1. Baumgartner, Frank R.
and Bryan D. Jones. Agendas and Instability in American Politics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993. 2.
King, David. Turf Wars: How Congressional Committees Claim Jurisdiction. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997 3. Groseclose, Tim and David King. Little Theatre: Committees in Congress, Great Theatre: The American Congress in the 1990s. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997. 4. Graff, Christopher. Sanders Likely to Seek Re-Election, Associated Press.
26 Nov. 1999, early edition. 5. Carnes, Sam A. The Plethora of Publics and their Participation in Policy Making: How can They Properly Participate?, Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the National Association of Environmental Professionals.
Washington, D.C., 1995.