Cameron, Cover, and Segal consider the factors that lead senators to vote for or against a president's Supreme Court nominees. They find that nominees considered to be higly qualified and closer to the policy positions of a senator's state are more likely to receive a positive vote.
Roll call voting in the U.S. Senate on nominees to the Supreme Court presents political scientists with an empirical puzzle and a theoretical challenge. The empirical puzzle stems from a curious pattern in the nomination politics of recent decades. In some cases, as shown in Table 34.1, the Senate routinely confirms the nominee. In these cases, liberal senators vote for conservative nominees and conservative senators vote for liberal nominees. For example, the most liberal members of the Senate recently voted to confirm judicial conservative Antonin Scalia. But on other occasions – including 9 of the 20 post-Brown-v.-Board of Education confirmations – the confirmation becomes extremely contentious. In these cases many or even most senators vote against the nominee, and voting becomes ideologically polarized. The rejection of Robert Bork illustrates this case.
We therefore face some puzzling questions: Why are some votes consensual? Why are some votes contentious? And what determines voting decisions in both cases? Satisfactory answers to these questions must explain the apparent switching process between the consensual and conflictual votes and the variance within the conflictual votes.
In the previous chapter I asked the models to explain many patterns they were not designed to explain. These repeated confrontations with data provided tough tests of the models. However, the patterns analyzed in Chapter 5 were all drawn from the statistical portrait of vetoes in Chapter 2. In this chapter I reverse the procedure: I use the models to generate predictions that lie outside the initial data. Then I test the predictions using new data. The predictions deal with three distinctively different phenomena: concessions, deadlines, and the legislative productivity of Congress.
In Chapter 2, I reported information gleaned from a content analysis of legislative histories. The legislative histories often reveal concessions in successors to vetoed bills, though sometimes the record is ambiguous and hard to interpret. The prevalence of concessions supplied the starting place for the model of sequential veto bargaining. Is there additional support for the fundamental “stylized fact” targeted by the model? Beyond this, do patterns in concessions conform to the predictions of the models? In this chapter I combine data on roll call votes on initial and successor bills with estimates of legislators’ preferences, derived from all roll call votes, to derive estimates of the direction and magnitude of policy concessions between successive bills in veto chains. These new data on concessions confirm the importance of concessions in veto bargaining and provide several tests of the game theoretic models.
A strong test for a model comes from predictions about a hitherto unstudied phenomenon. The bargaining models make several striking predictions about a phenomenon that political scientists have not previously studied: changes in the probability of vetoes immediately before presidential elections, a “deadline effect.”
It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
Following Holmes's advice means plunging into a sea of data: more than 17,000 enactments and over 400 vetoes. Each veto is unique. Many have fascinating stories. How can one deal with this overwhelming complexity?
It is possible to approach a data set in the spirit of a natural historian. Exploratory data analysis becomes the social scientist's equivalent of a collecting jar, magnifying lens, and scalpel. These tools, along with some simple pretheoretical notions, allow us to search for structure in the data, to reduce the enormous complexity in hundreds of events to a few memorable, reliable patterns that capture much of the variation in the data. The goal of this chapter, in short, is to transform bewildering complexity into bewildering simplicity.
Veto bargaining is a dynamic process. You can no more study veto bargaining by counting the aggregate vetoes per time period, than you can study price bargaining by counting the customers who leave a shop without purchases. What is needed is a different kind of data, event histories, longitudinal data in which discrete events (vetoes, override attempts, and repassages) may occur repeatedly. Such data identify episodes of veto bargaining and track what happens in each episode. Constructing a set of event histories of veto bargaining means, in practice, identifying each bill in a bargaining episode and detailing its fate.
Identifying the Bills
I start with the 434 vetoes of public bills cast between the beginning of the Truman administration in 1945 and the end of the Bush administration in 1992.
The Founders erected the new American state upon two pillars: federalism and the separation of powers. The Civil War and the Roosevelt revolution knocked the first aside – not entirely, but largely so. The breathtaking expansion of the executive apparatus during the twentieth century shook but failed to topple the second pillar. The separation-of powers system remains the foundation of that amazingly complex and ever changing construction, the American federal government.
In a system of “separated institutions sharing powers,” bargaining between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches becomes the modus operandi of governance. Of course, building legislative coalitions and managing bureaucratic hierarchies are also key features of American government, as they are in parliamentary governments. But in no system but the American is bargaining across the distinct branches of the government so formal and so important.
This book is about one type of interbranch bargaining, veto bargaining between president and Congress. When the policy preferences of the president and Congress differ dramatically, as they often do during periods of divided government, veto bargaining is instrumental in shaping important legislation. The process works through anticipation, through threats, and through vetoes, including vetoes of repassed legislation. This book examines all these mechanisms. Because we are living in the most concentrated period of divided government in our nation's history, a theory of veto bargaining is essential for understanding the recent operation of American government. It is also necessary for understanding American political history.
This chapter develops three models of veto bargaining. I begin with the second face of power, introduced in the first chapter, and develop it into a model of the veto as a presidential capacity. This model, the famous Romer-Rosenthal model of take-it-or-leave-it bargaining, supplies the theme on which all the subsequent models in this book are variations. The first variation examines the politics of veto overrides. The second explores full-blown sequential veto bargaining.
Each model in this chapter tells a story, the story of a causal mechanism. The mechanism in the first model is the power of anticipated response. The model explores how the president's veto power affects the balance of power in a separation-of-powers system. The mechanism in the second model is uncertainty. The model shows how uncertainty tempers congressional action, allows actual vetoes to take place, and shifts the balance of power somewhat toward the president. However, this model misses an important part of the politics of the veto for it cannot explain how vetoes wrest policy concessions from Congress. The mechanism in the third model is strategic reputation building, the deliberate manipulation of beliefs through vetoes. This model addresses the veto and congressional policy concessions.
Why do I present three midlevel models of veto bargaining rather than one grand model encompassing everything? To tell its story, each model isolates one or two elements of veto bargaining and then examines them extremely carefully. I could yoke several of these stories together into a kind of megamodel, much as a writer might do in a novel.
American political scientists have rediscovered what the foremost historian of the Founding Era calls “the major justification for all the constitutional reforms the Republicans proposed” in 1789, the principle “expanded and exalted by the Americans to the foremost position in their constitutionalism,” in fact “the dominant principle of the American political system” (Wood 1969:449, 604). That principle is the separation of powers.
The impetus for the rediscovery is no mystery: the continuing reality of split party control of Congress and the presidency, “divided government.” In the half century since the end of World War II, from 1945 to 1994, the Republican and Democratic parties simultaneously controlled different parts of the American federal government in twenty-eight years, 56% of the time. By the late 1980s the pattern had become the norm, and political scientists could no longer dismiss divided government as anomalous. The resulting intellectual shock was neatly captured by the title of James Sundquist's influential 1988 article: “Needed: A Political Theory for the New Era of Coalition Government in the United States.”
How could political scientists need a theory of divided government in 1988, when the American federal government had shown such a persistent tendency toward split party control – 40% of the time in the century and a half since the full emergence of the party system in the 1830s? The answer lies in the theory of American government forged around the turn of the century by the founders of modern political science in the United States. For key members of this generation, the separation of powers was not the genius of the American system; it was the problem with the system.
Reviewing a conference called to evaluate the state of presidential studies, George Edwards, John Kessel, and Bert Rockman note with somewhat acerbic wit,
Theory and rigor were the watchwords of the conference. These are values to which all participants could subscribe, so long as they remained undefined. … We have been conditioned to salivate at certain symbols of scientific progress – theory and rigor are words that appeal to these glands. But behind our operant conditioning (who gets rewarded for saying they are atheoretical or impressionistic?) we have different images of what these words mean.
It is plainly true that there are many ways to do good social science. Those who assemble data, those who conduct case studies, those who analyze others’ data, those who produce creative insights, those who take stock of what we know, and those who build theoretical models all make valuable contributions. “Theoretical” and “rigorous” are hardly synonyms for “good social science.”
Nonetheless, one of the goals of this book is to produce useful and interesting theory about the presidency in an age of divided government. The approach I take is characteristic of the new analytical or rational choice institutionalism. I focus on a specific, repeated, important phenomenon: veto bargaining. Then, I use rational choice theory to build several interrelated models of different aspects of the phenomenon. This approach is sufficiently novel – and controversial – in presidential studies to warrant an extended apologia.
Solving puzzles is central to science. We see phenomena like those explored in Chapter 2, and ask why. Solving a puzzle means explaining it. Explaining it means finding and elaborating a causal mechanism for it.
As children, most of us delighted in Rudyard Kipling's “just-so” stories. Kipling began with a simple fact, for example, elephants have long noses. Then he made up a fanciful story to explain it: perhaps a crocodile stretched an elephant's nose and the trait was passed down to other elephants. Just so!
In the previous chapter, I began with some simple facts, and then made up a causal mechanism to explain them. The three facts were: vetoes actually occur, veto chains are relatively common, and concessions often occur over the course of a chain. The first model failed to generate any of these patterns, but it supplied a useful framework for additional thought. The override model can generate the first and second patterns, but not the third. The sequential veto bargaining (SVB) model can generate all three.
Are the override and SVB models merely just-so stories? Or do they capture something real about the dynamics of interbranch bargaining? How can we tell? To answer this question I rely on the criteria outlined toward the end of Chapter 3. As indicated there, a sine qua non for a good model is an ability to explain empirical puzzles it was not designed to explain. Table 2.12, which I reproduce in separate tables throughout this chapter, is filled with empirical puzzles that go well beyond the three “stylized facts.” For example, why does the probability of a veto increase with legislative significance during divided government, but not during unified government? Why are veto chains short? Why don't any of the covariates predict the success of an override attempt, once the decision to attempt an override is made? Can the models explain these facts?
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