Political Science 3604
20 November 2013
In the 2005 article “Interests, Constituencies, and Policy Making,” author Frances Lee attends to many conditions under which Congress has been historically, but more evidentially today, known to put the parochial interests of the institution ahead of the public interests of the American nation. By the end of the article, after examining the actions of the institution as a whole, and despite her somewhat unattractive findings, Lee addresses that a working Congress is still a genuine possibility. Robert Kaiser, a long-time writer at The Washington Post, published his book Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How it Doesn’t in the summer of 2013. The book provides us with a “behind-closed-doors” insight and analysis of the 2010 Financial Regulatory Reform Bill, better known as the Dodd-Frank Bill. I will take these findings of Lee and place them side-by-side with those of Robert Kaiser in order to confirm or refute whether the conditions Lee has outlined held true in the 2010 congressional drafting and passing of the Financial Regulatory Reform Bill.
Kaiser uses Act of Congress to provide the public with a story of financial reform through his own eyes as well as the eyes of the two most important men involved in guiding the bill to its passage, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. Dodd and Frank, both retired now, at the time were the Democratic Senator of Connecticut and Massachusetts House Representative, respectively, during Kaiser’s study. Dodd, Frank’s Senate counterpart, chaired the Senate Banking Committee while Frank chaired the House committee that oversees the financial services industry. Kaiser enveloped himself inside the minds of those dealing with the issue first-hand as a vehicle to ultimately show America how its essential institution does and does not work. Following the 2008 financial crisis, America found itself facing the issue of an unavoidably needed reform of the financial sector, the economy’s largest and most important sector. Neither party had the proper will nor desire to civilly and professionally reach a compromise. The compromise that needed to be reached needed to be for the greater benefit of the general public, however, parochial interests seemed to take priority over public interests and both parties rejected compromise. An issue of party polarity and increasing partisanship staged congressional Democrats and Republicans in a stand-off. Most senators and representatives preferred to use this opposition of parties to place blame on each other rather than to work towards compromise. Thankfully, Dodd, never intending for his “discussion draft” to become a final product, was able to find compromise with Republican opposition and pass the 1,500 page reform bill, transforming America’s financial sector (Kaiser, 195).
The conditions of Congress putting parochial interests ahead of the interests of the public outlined in Lee’s “Interests, Constituencies, and Policy Making” are an excellent platform to be used in analyzing and critiquing the congressional actions as seen in Act of Congress. Lee finds that Congress faces a pressure to respond to narrow interests in an attempt to either gain or maintain the approval of the geographic area of which they represent. Ultimately, these actions are done in hopes that constituent approval will result in the senator or representative keeping their seat. Politicians are aware that “the voting public believes that American governing institutions too frequently sacrifice or neglect the interests of “the many” in order to serve the interests of the ‘few” (Lee, 281). Because of this, in a bid to prolong their career, politicians make promises to not neglect the interests of the “many” for the interests of the “few.” Still, legislators seeking a long career in Congress have little incentive in