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Institutional Strangulation: Bureaucratic Politics and Financial Reform in the Obama Administration

  • Daniel Carpenter (a1)

The politics of financial reform represent a genuine test case for American politics and its institutions. The Obama administration's proposed reforms pit common (largely unorganized) interests against well-organized and wealthy minority interests. I describe how the withering and unfolding of financial reform has occurred not through open institutional opposition but through a quieter process that I call institutional strangulation. Institutional strangulation consists of much more than the stoppage of policies by aggregation of veto points as designed in the US Constitution. In the case of financial reform, it has non-constitutional veto points, including committee politics and cultural veto points (gender and professional finance), strategies of partisan intransigence, and perhaps most significantly, the bureaucratic politics of turf and reputation. These patterns can weaken common-interest reforms, especially in the broad arena of consumer protection.

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