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Congressional Ambivalence: The Political Burdens of Constitutional Authority

by Jasmine Farrier

Availablecloth$40.00x 978-0-8131-9262-8
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208 pages  Pubdate: 04/30/2010  6 x 9   3 graphs

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Is the United States Congress dead, alive, or trapped in a moribund cycle? When confronted with controversial policy issues, members of Congress struggle to satisfy conflicting legislative, representative, and oversight duties. These competing goals, along with the pressure to satisfy local constituents, cause members of Congress to routinely cede power on a variety of policies, express regret over their loss of control, and later return to the habit of delegating their power. This pattern of institutional ambivalence undermines conventional wisdom about congressional party resurgence, the power of oversight, and the return of the so-called imperial presidency.

In Congressional Ambivalence, Jasmine Farrier examines Congress’s frequent delegation of power by analyzing primary source materials such as bills, committee reports, and the Congressional Record. Farrier demonstrates that Congress is caught between abdication and ambition and that this ambivalence affects numerous facets of the legislative process.

Explaining specific instances of post-delegation disorder, including Congress’s use of new bills, obstruction, public criticism, and oversight to salvage its lost power, Farrier exposes the tensions surrounding Congress’s roles in recent hot-button issues such as base-closing commissions, presidential trade promotion authority, and responses to the attacks of September 11. She also examines shifting public rhetoric used by members of Congress as they emphasize, in institutionally self-conscious terms, the difficulties of balancing their multiple roles. With a deep understanding of the inner workings of the federal government, Farrier illuminates a developing trend in the practice of democracy.

Jasmine Farrier, associate professor of political science at the University of Louisville, is the author of Passing the Buck: Congress, the Budget, and Deficits. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

"Jasmine Farrier builds on her earlier work to thoughtfully explore this fundamental issue: why do members of Congress seem uninterested or unable to protect their legislative powers? The result is not merely a weak Congress. In failing to defend their institutional interests, lawmakers undermine the system of checks and balances that helps safeguard individual rights and liberties and makes self-government possible."--Louis Fisher, author of Presidential War Power

"In this incisive and sophisticated work of scholarship, Farrier adds an important dimension to our understanding of the relationship between Congress and the presidency. . . . This insightful book should be read by anyone concerned with the current state of interbranch relations."--James Pfiffner, author of The Modern Presidency

"An important contribution both to the study of congressional politics and to our understanding of public policymaking. . . . It is an important book whose significance is likely to grow with time."--Lawrence Dodd, author of Congress and Policy Change

"The ‘cycle of ambivalence’ that Farrier describes in this book is as useful in understanding the process of congressional delegation as the ‘capture’ thesis was in understanding regulatory commissions. . . . Her theory is indispensable for understanding the congressional role in current policymaking."--Richard Pious, author of Why Presidents Fail: White House Decision Making from Eisenhower to Bush II

"Congressional Ambivalence presents an innovative perspective on Congress’s delegation of authority, especially to the executive branch. In this important contribution to the literature on Congress and the separation of powers, Farrier offers clear evidence of a cycle of ambivalence with respect to congressional delegation and explores the causes and consequences of the cycle through rigorous analysis of public documents."--Daniel Palazzolo, coeditor of Election Reform: Politics and Policy

"Through a close analysis of the explanations members of Congress provide for delegating authority to the executive branch in three important areas of public policy, Farrier shows how members’ ambivalence about the capacities of their own institution has undermined the institutional ambition required to sustain the proper constitutional role of legislative power."--Randall Strahan, author of Leading Representatives: The Agency of Leaders in the Politics of the U.S. House

"Unlike most studies of this subject, Farrier’s rightly considers the ways changing political circumstances influence legislators’ attitudes toward delegation."--Social & Behavioral Sciences

"Farrier examines the institutional and political causes and consequences of this cycle on case studies of five rounds of military base-closing commissions, three decades of fast track implementation processes, and post 9/11 legislation concerning intelligence policy and the Iraq War."--SciTech Book News

"Farrier . . . describes the way Congress vacillates between an assertion of power and abdication."--Political Bookworm