Add to GoodReads Exam Copies

The Path of American Public Policy

Comparative Perspectives

Anne Marie Cammisa and Paul Christopher Manuel

Among all the worlds’ democracies, the American system of government is perhaps the most self-conscious about preventing majority tyranny. The American constitutional system is predicated on an inherent ideational and institutional tension dating back to the foundation of the nation in the eighteenth century, which constrains innovative policy development. Namely, the framers designed a system that simultaneously seeks to protect the rights of the minority out of power and provide for majority rule. These opposing goals are based on the idea that limiting governmental power will guarantee individual liberty.

The Path of American Public Policy: Comparative Perspectives asks how this foundational tension might limit the range of options available to American policy makers. What does the resistance to change in Washington teach us about the American system of checks and balances? Why is it so difficult (though not impossible) to make sweeping policy changes in the United States? How could things be different? What would be the implications for policy formation if the United States adopted a British-style parliamentary system?

To examine these questions, this book gives an example of when comprehensive change failed (the 1994 Contract with America) and when it succeeded (the 2010 Affordable Care Act). A comparison of the two cases sheds light on how and why Obama’s health care was shepherded to law under Nancy Pelosi, while Newt Gingrich was less successful with the Contract with America. The contrast between the two cases highlights the balance between majority rule and minority rights, and how the foundational tension constrains public-policy formation. While 2010 illustrates an exception to the rule about comprehensive policy change in the United States, the 1994 is an apt example of how our system of checks and balances usually works to stymie expansive, far-reaching legislative initiatives.
« less more »
Lexington Books
Pages: 266Size: 6 x 9
978-0-7391-8659-6 • Hardback • December 2013 • $95.00 • (£65.00)
978-0-7391-8661-9 • Paperback • December 2013 • $41.99 • (£27.95)
978-0-7391-8660-2 • eBook • December 2013 • $38.99 • (£24.95)
Anne Marie Cammisa is a visiting professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. Previously, Cammisa was professor of government at Suffolk University in Boston. She is the author of From Rhetoric to Reform? Welfare Policy in American Politics.

Paul Christopher Manuel is professor of political science and director of the Institute for Leadership at Mount Saint Mary’s University.

Chapter 1: Of Ideas and Institutions: The Foundational Tension of American Democracy
Why Does American Government Appear to Be Spinning Its Wheels?
The Foundational Tension: Majority Rule versus Minority Rights
How the Foundational Ideational Tension Limits Innovative Policy Development: Ideas Conceptualized as Cognitive Locks
Structure of the Remainder of the Book

Chapter 2: The Path of Political Development in Great Britain and the United States: A Brief
Comparative History
Why American Government Operates under Checks and Balances, and British Government Does Not
The Evolution of the British Parliament
Key Institutional Features of British Democracy
The Creation of the American Presidential System
Key Institutional Features of American Democracy

Chapter 3: Agenda Setting and Agenda Control: Case One: A Legislative History of the 1994
Republican Contract with America
The 1994 Contract with America
Introduction to the 104th Congress
The Framers’ Fears of the Tyranny of the Majority and the 1994 Republican Contract with America
Background: Where Did the Contract Come From?
The Contract with America
The First Hundred Days of the 104th Congress
American Congress Function Differently than the British Parliament

Chapter 4: Agenda Setting and Agenda Control: Case Two: The 2008–2010 Battle over Health Care
Agenda Setting and Agenda Control
Congress’s Turn: Policy Formation and Legitimation
Welcome (Again) to the World of Checks and Balances
Conclusion: Lessons from the Past

Chapter 5: What if American Democracy Were on a Different Path?
How a British-Style Parliamentary System Could Change American Politics
How American Political Development Could Have Been on a Different Path
How Selected Election Outcomes Might Have Been Different

Chapter 6: Conclusion: Ideas and Institutions Matter
Problem One: Divided Government
Problem Two: Gridlock
Problem Three: No Means to Quickly Replace a Failed or Deadlocked Administration
Some Possible Solutions?
Ideas and Institutions Matter

About the Authors
In this book, Anna Marie Cammisa and Paul Christopher Manuel renew their thoughtful comparison of the American presidential system with the parliamentary systems found in most liberal democracies. They go beyond a comparative politics text by imagining how American democracy might work if we had a parliamentary system. Their writing is both educational and entertaining, and they offer instruction in a way that is simple and understandable, while encouraging the student to think critically about democracy. This is great for assignment in both American Politics and Comparative Politics courses.
Arthur Paulson, Southern Connecticut State University

The Path of American Public Policy: Comparative Perspectives attacks an old question with a fresh perspective. Anne Marie Cammisa and Paul Christopher Manuel examine the impact of American institutions on policy-making, noting debates among the framers of our constitution, and ask what would be different if we had a parliamentary system and what would be different under different types of parliamentary systems stemming from electoral rules other than first-past-the-post-plurality voting. Naturally, there are no firm answers to the ‘what ifs’ that the authors pose, but there are probabilistic ones. This very well written book explicates the philosophies and the biases behind the American Constitution and its diametric opposite, the Westminster system. It explores the outcomes of two case studies in the U.K. and the U.S. and how institutions influenced them. This is a terrific book for thinking about American politics and government in a comparative context and is especially useful in understanding why we get the policy outcomes we do—or, as may more often be the case, the lack of outcome.
Bert A. Rockman, Perdue University

Increasingly it seems that the U.S. government cannot seem to get important things done outside of moments of acute crisis. Presidential agendas die even before arrival in Congress, whose leaders seem incapable of sustaining majorities of any kind. Minority factions pervade, wielding far greater veto power than even the Framers thought wise. To many, that eighteenth-century constitutional system seems increasingly antiquated, unsuited to the pressing demands of twenty-first-century governance. Confronted with apparent systemic dysfunction, Manuel and Cammisa ask, might the U.S. be better off adopting a British-style parliamentary system? Using two compelling cases, the 1994 Contract with American and the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and the lens offered by literature on American political development and comparative public policy, Manuel and Cammisa deftly examine the core tension between majority rule and minority rights that defines the American constitutional system. In the end, they get you to think, ‘what if?’, and let you decide where you want to go in addressing this tension. Whichever path you choose, every reader gets a thought-compelling guide through the often-frustrating core elements of American government. This is a fun book.
Christopher Bosso, Northeastern University

Cammisa and Manuel have constructed a very fine introduction for students of politics. Their comparative approach to the study of American government centers around a thought-experiment: What if the United States operated under a parliamentary system with proportional representation? By that device, the authors are able to raise significant issues of the relation of liberty to democracy, the limits of majority rule, and the role of institutions in shaping outcomes. The case studies—the 1994 Republican Contract with America and the 2010 Affordable Care Act—are very helpful for illustrating and examining the effects of institutional structures on the practice of making public policy.
Peter B. Josephson, Saint Anselm College

Cammisa and Manuel have produced an interesting analysis of the 'efficiency' versus 'deliberation' arguments surrounding the value of parliamentary systems versus presidential systems. This timely book reviews potential reforms of the American system while comparing it to a modified British equivalent. The authors cite gridlock, a lack of accountability due to divided government, and the lack of a vote of no confidence as weaknesses in the American style of government that promote dysfunction, inefficiency, and a lack of accountability to voters. The authors take care to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the American presidential system through a series of case studies on the Contract with America and the Affordable Care Act. The innovative area of the book lies in its predictive chapters, which discuss avenues of change or reform if the US adopted a system similar to the UK's. The . . . .treatment of the subject by the authors is excellent. This book would be an excellent supplement to any introductory government class. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers and undergraduate students.