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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Deliberative Failure

In our first chapter, we note: "Critics fault Congress for taking legislative shortcuts at the expense of policy discussion. Political rhetoric in Congress and elsewhere seems to be little more than name-calling and partisan sniping." In an article in Roll Call, political scientists Thad Hall and E. Scott Adler point to a specific deliberative deficit:

A fundamental part of governing in the modern era is the reauthorization of existing federal programs and agencies. The idea behind reauthorizations is simple; Congress sets a time when the funding, and often the enabling legislation, for a program will expire. When this time comes, Congress is meant to review a program or agency’s performance and make modifications to improve its effectiveness. A new law is then passed — the reauthorization — that legislates adjustments to the program or agency’s function, based on input from interest groups, agency personnel, constituents and others.

The result is legislation that makes government programs work better and federal agencies more responsive. Congress began doing this after World War II, and the practice continued and expanded through the 1980s.

Since 1985, the Congressional Budget Office annually issues a report listing programs that have not had their funding reauthorized. That report has shown that, over the past two decades, Congress has increasingly abdicated its basic governing responsibilities. Consider the following numbers: In 1993, there were 59 programs operating with an expired authorization. Today, there are 250.