The Patashnik (2008) reading, "Reforms at Risk: What Happens After Major Policy Reforms are Enacted," discusses the process of how general interest reforms can get started and how they are able to be sustained. He goes into detail on the various factors and issues with sustaining policy reforms, and how to identify them. In chapter 3, the he uses the Tax Reform Act of 1986 as a study on general interest reform and how it has changed from the time it was passed. In the study he discuss how it came to be passed, and the political actors involved. Who supported and opposed the reform when it passed, and how those players changed their views after that administration changed; even though they were from the same party. The TRA was chosen because it was considered a "stunning piece of reform legislation" (54), however, it eroded and changed considerable after passing. Chapter 9 discusses the general interest reforms limitations, cycles, how it can be can be sustained, and why it erodes. The Hacker (2010) reading uses the 2008 healthcare reform to further discuss how reforms come to be. He concludes that "fights over policy are fights over who gets to exercise government authority" (872), and this fight for authority is important to understand how democracy works. McConnell (2010) explores what is considered a successful or failed reform, and how different criteria leads to different conclusions. He also states that the reality is that reform is usually somewhere in between success and failure. He also identifies the outcome of success or failure by critiquing on three realms (process, program and political).
From the readings there are various factors that play an important role in policy reforms. The Tax Reform Act provided several examples: the media "as signalers, the media have the power to focus the public's attention" (Burns. 2013); which Bill Bradley, as an "advocate who is willing to invest resources"(Kingdon. 2011), used to his advantage; and political leaders. From our past readings which factors (media, agenda setters, policy windows, etc.) do you feel is the most important in policy reforms? How do they impact reform?
This week's readings pertained to the topics of success and failures of policy after it has been implemented. In particular, (Patashnik) analyzes general interest reforms-meaning a "non-incremental change of an existing line of policymaking intended to rationalize government undertaking or to distribute benefits to some broad constituency"-and specifically details the sustainability of the various policies after their implementation. Patashnik believes that much academic focus and energies are directed towards the environment before and at the moment of implementation of public policies but these efforts and interests wane after the implementation of reform. By analyzing policymaking developmentally through various case studies, including the Tax Reform of 1986, Patashnik sets out to determine how different general interest reforms have evolved after the signing of the bill and to see what effects that institutional shifts, interest-group feedback, and investment feedbacks have on the post enactment trajectories of the various bills and how current and future politicians and political scientists could benefit from such discoveries.
The readings this week are a nice accompaniment to the many selections earlier this semester because they build off the different dynamics that are at play with the creation of public policy, such as interest group activity and polarization of parties. "The game doesn't end after the bill is signed" seems like it could be directed to Kingdon's theory of agenda setting and his discussion of the importance of problems, politics, and political windows in the formation of public policy. The evolution of policies after conception are important to evaluate as they allow for a deeper understanding of the policymaking process and what efforts should be made to ensure that polices will stand in the future with their core principles intact.
My questions correspond to the practicality of Patashnik's practical implications. I don't disagree with his premise of the importance of the evolution of reform legislation and its staying power but I do wonder how beneficial it is for actors of the policymaking process to be concerned with this when they often have to endure the paradoxes that Patashnik cites as ways in which reform is passed but often then leads to the unraveling of said program. Integrating sustainability considerations into policy design is one of the implications put forth by Patashnik and he states that "reformers should select policies that are best not only in a static sense, but that seem likely to generate more, rather than less, social progress over time. " How would President Obama's Affordable Care Act been different if they had chosen a structure that addressed the sustainability of the reform? Would the bill pass if these structural changes were added? Are there aspects of the bill process that did take into account the sustainability or were the changes of the bill more directly tied to just getting the bill enacted?
This week's readings take on the weighty issue of policy outcomes and success. McConnell (2010)'s piece presents a framework for evaluating policy outcomes, which is organized around process, program, and political domains and contains a "spectrum of success" consisting of resilient success, conflicted success, precarious success, and failure (p.345). Through this framework McConnell attempts to systematically address the complicated objective and subjective criteria that impact evaluations of policy outcomes, taking into account not only goal achievement, but also levels of opposition and support.
Hacker (2010)'s analysis and summary of his involvement with the 2009-2010 movement for health care reform in the United States provides a useful case example for further examining elements and frameworks of policy outcomes and success. Through his account of the political features involved in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Hacker highlights some of the key political actors and forces involved in present-day reform efforts. Among these elements include the impacts of political polarization, the agenda setting function of interest groups, and clout of party elites, which harken back to the earlier readings of McCarty (2007), Cigler and Loomis (1991), and Domhoff (1998).
The chapters featured from Patashnik (2008)'s book Reforms At Risk serve as a useful end cap for this week's readings in that they explore the interests, actors, and mechanisms that undermine the sustainability policy reform efforts. The case study of 1986's Tax Reform Act serves to illustrate these elements that can scale back the reforms of earlier policymakers and render a piece of legislation essentially ineffective.
Given what we have read this week about the evaluation of policy outcomes and the political and structural threats that may undermine the sustainability of hard-won reform efforts, what chances do you think the Affordable Care Act has to endure as a lasting piece of policy reform? What political actors or forces do you think might contribute to its long-term success or eventual demise?
This weeks readings deal with the aftermath of the political/policy making process. In his book "Reforms at Risk: What Happens After Major Policy Reforms are Enacted," Patashnik (2008) discusses the factors required for general interest reform to take place. He argues that understanding general interest reform is critical to understanding the creation and subsequent dismantling of large-scale policy initiatives so policy analysts can identify problems that may arise in future attempts to pass similar legislation. He uses the Tax Reform Act of 1986 as an example of general interest reform that was passed with great fanfare that over the course of 20 years was dismantled in a piecemeal fashion. In his article Policy Success, Policy Failure, and the Grey Areas in Between, McConnell (2010) notes that while policies are often labeled as failures or success, they often fall somewhere in between. He identifies three realms to policy: processes, programs, and politics. According to McConnell a particular policy can succeed or fail to varying degrees within each of these realms. In The Road to Somewhere: Why Health Reform Happened, Hacker (2010) tackles the complexities of healthcare reform. He makes the argument that policy per se, deserves more attention than it gets from political scientists. He claims that large-scale policy initiatives cover many of the key matters at the core of political science: interest groups, elites, polarization, politics, etc.
In the ebbing and flowing, and polarized political climate we live in, it seems like policy reforms are becoming an increasingly rare breed. The Congress pats themselves on the back for passing continuing resolutions just to keep the government running but still cannot agree on most basic legislation. In The Policy Effects of Political Polarization McCarty (2007) asserts that polarization has weakened the ability of the legislative branch to engage in meaningful policy making. This, he argues, puts the impetus on the judicial and executive branches to create new policy or mitigate disputes over existing policies. Often times it seems like the only one of McConnell's realms that matters is the political realm, unless you consider obstruction a part of the process. With a lack of continuity in government, and increasing polarization, is our government capable of reforming for the general interest? Are we stuck in perpetual motion? Is our government so tied tied to special interests that pragmatic and effective policy is a thing of the past? Chew on that for a while.
The most interesting part of McConnell's piece on policy success for me was the comparison between different types of success as they occur. Notably, the conflict he discusses between political success and program success leads to many questions about politics that are partisan and / or democratic in nature (or both to some degree). The trade-off was demonstrated nicely by the Hacker piece on health care reform. The Obama administration may have lost their majority in the House in 2010 because the ACA's political ramifications, even if the process engaged the appropriate stakeholders (especially major interest groups). The outcomes, or 'program success', is yet to be determined, but by all indications, many more Americans will benefit from coverage once it is fully implemented. What's interesting is that, while many concessions have been made in the final bill that passed, no Republicans voted for it. None. In fact, several are still attempting to disrupt its implementation.
This brings me to the questions of implementation, both in the process and program dimensions of success. While the administration worked diligently to secure interest groups support, they stood back from engaging the public in a deliberate, organized way. Part of this may be attributed to controlling the agenda - one of McConnell's criteria for 'political success'. On an issue as socially contentious (and politicized on partisan lines) as health care reform, this may have been wise. After all, the bill still passed. But given the 2010 losses, it's hard to tell if more direct public engagement would led to more uncertainty in the general public or more support. The recent failure for new gun legislation may be an example where the same type of strategy failed. Unlike the AMA or the insurance groups, you know the NRA isn't going to budge, so perhaps more local engagement was necessary to ignite the type of social movement necessary to make such changes. After the Obama re-election, I'm surprised they didn't try to de-politicize the issue more this way.
My critique of McConnell's piece is then in defining 'political success'. The two party system appears here to stay, so he's justified to include a measure of success to some degree there, but 'controlling the policy agenda' may only increase the natural tension between 'engagement' and 'control'. When implementing a policy, engaging multiple stakeholders implies discussing a wide range of values, rather than one broad set. Just because a lot of people like guns doesn't mean they all share similar values. Do you think government needs to 'control the agenda' or just listen/discuss policy questions with multiple communities more? What situations might require one more than the other? What are the challenges for implementation on both sides?
This week's readings focused on the politics around sustainability of policy and policy reform process.
Patashnik (2008) explores what conditions are requisite for general interest reform to take place. He argues that it is imperative to study the evolution of general interest reform to gain a better understanding of prior policy reform efforts and to support policy reformers understand problems that may arise in the future and design against such problems.
In chapter 3 Patashnik explores the politics of Tax Reform Act (TRA) of 1986. He identifies the pre-reform situation around tax policy, the content of the reform, the supporters and opponents of reform and the political reconfiguration around the issue. He demonstrates that TRA was unable to 1) reconfigure the political economy of tax policy making, 2) dissuade lobbyists and interest groups, 3) raise the political transaction costs and lastly, due to lack of procedural and institutional changes did not protect policy makers from ideological shifts and polarization. Patashnik asserts that the gradual erosion of the TRA was a result of weak political foundations and policy feedbacks, lack of or minimal impact on economic decisions, and inability to change the expectation of the clientele. The analysis underscores the importance of key factors such as polarization (MaCarty 2007) interest groups (Cigler and Loomis, 2007) and blame game (Zohlnhöfer (2007) that have been discussed in previous classes. Moreover, Hacker (2010) examines the 2008-09 Health Care reform debate to demonstrate the importance of these factors by comparing previous reform efforts with the 2008-09 efforts.
Finally Patashnik highlights the paradoxes that are evident in attempts to sustain reforms. He concludes that cultivating clientele, creating sunk costs, harnessing power of market forces, changing the game and integration of political sustainability consideration in to policy design, are imperative to ensure policy reform is sustainable.
McConnell (2010) lays out a framework to analyze success and failure of a policy through the realms of process, program and politics. He provides delineation between complete success and failure by outlining typology of; success, resilient success, conflicted success, precarious success and failure. McConnell shows that policies succeed and fail in a combination of these realms as well as along the spectrum. He asserts that utilizing this framework captures multiplicity of outcomes, differentiate between success and failure in terms of processes, programs and policies, as well as allow for comparison along sectors and policies.
What are some current reform efforts that mirror the cases discussed in the readings? Based on the factors identified by Patashnik, what are some ways that these efforts can be made more sustainable?
Hacker focuses largely on the political factors (interest groups, Congressional composition, key stakeholders, public opinion, polarization) and larger events (recession) influencing the discussion and eventual passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Hacker's ACA topic is a useful one for analyzing policy success. Despite Hacker's detailing of how the act was watered down before passage, champions and supporters celebrated its passage and remarked on its eventual historical impact. Yet how many of us could give an accurate update on ACA implementation? I suspect no one (and if you can, please help the rest of us). I think this is because policy implementation is a largely unpublicized, often uninteresting process (at least to non-wonks). It typically involves public administrators who receive the law's language and are tasked with implementing the policy with varying degrees of autonomy. This makes the quality of implementation very difficult to predict and monitor, especially when you add so many arenas as is the case with the ACA (hospital administration, state agencies, private insurers, etc). As Patashnik notes, "...institutional shifts clearly affect reform sustainability...the institutional structures established to protect reforms may conflict with the mandates from pre-existing institutions, or they may lack the necessary incentives or capacities" (167)
Earlier in the semester, Arnold Meltsner noted that feasibility analysis should lead to policies that can be implemented. Yet it seems much of the discussion around feasibility is around the development (and ideally, eventual passage) of policy. What I often see missing from that discussion is consideration for exactly how a given program or policy will reach the individuals it's designed to affect. Implementation scholars point to analyzing how initial implementers (often bureaucrats) receive the policy - is there support among professionals in the given policy arena? Have concerns voiced by program recipients been truly considered in policy development? I would argue that the answers to these questions are quite relevant to analyzing policy "success", because they define whether or not a program or policy does what Hacker's list of political players worked hard to influence on the front end of policy making.
Though perhaps I'm overstating their importance. Can policy makers and "front-end" players as I've described them create policy in ways that ensure successful implementation? Do you think policy makers consider these questions?
I've chosen a complicated policy area in the ACA to make my point. Are there policy arenas where success is easier to identify or define?
What lessons from this week's readings can policymakers learn and apply to policy issues currently being debated (e.g. immigration, gun control, others)?
Comment below on anything regarding the topic of policy implementation or specific things you found interesting about the readings or videos this week.