Presidential Pork

Presidential Pork: White House Influence over the Distribution of Federal Grants

John Hudak
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 222
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  • Book Info
    Presidential Pork
    Book Description:

    Presidential earmarks? Perhaps even more so than their counterparts in Congress, presidents have the motive and the means to politicize spending for political power. But do they?

    InPresidential Pork, John Hudak explains and interprets presidential efforts to control federal spending and accumulate electoral rewards for that power.

    The projects that members of Congress secure for their constituents certainly attract attention. Political pundits still chuckle about the "Bridge to Nowhere." But Hudak clearly illustrates that while Congress claims credit for earmarks and pet projects, the practice is alive and well in the White House, too.

    More than any representative or senator, presidents engage in pork barrel spending in a comprehensive and systematic way to advance their electoral interests. It will come as no surprise that the White House often steers the enormous federal bureaucracy to spend funds in swing states. It is a major advantage that only incumbents enjoy.

    Hudak reconceptualizes the way in which we view the U.S. presidency and the goals and behaviors of those who hold the nation's highest office. He illustrates that presidents and their White Houses are indeed complicit in distributing presidential pork-and how they do it. The result is an illuminating and highly original take on presidential power and public policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2521-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In late 2008 and early 2009, the United States rapidly entered a profound economic recession. In concert with Congress, the Bush and Obama administrations crafted legislation intended to stem economic losses and restart the economy on a path toward growth, employment, and stability. That legislation, which became the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, was signed into law on February 19, 2009.³ The White House stated that the act was “a nationwide effort to create jobs, jumpstart growth and transform our economy to compete in the 21st century”⁴ and that it would “provide immediate tax relief to families and...

  5. 2 Spending Power and the Election-Driven President
    (pp. 11-31)

    The president derives little if any spending authority from the U.S. Constitution. In fact, Article I specifically empowers Congress to appropriate funds, and scholars often note that the legislative branch has “the power of the purse.” However, each year Congress delegates spending authority to the executive branch. It relies on the president to do what legislators and their staff cannot: allocate hundreds of billions of dollars across hundreds of federal programs and policy areas to help meet citizens’ needs and desires.

    Congress can limit executive branch discretion by writing restrictions into legislation, developing formulas to determine distribution, creating block grants,...

  6. 3 Pork Barrel Politics at the Presidential Level
    (pp. 32-67)

    Between October 8 and October 14, 2004, presidential appointees in the U.S. Department of Energy, including Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, scheduled and attended ceremonies announcing nearly $300 million in alternative energy grants. Much of that money came from the Power Plan Improvement Initiative and the Clean Coal Power Initiative, programs that President George W. Bush promoted or started as a way to meet the nation’s growing demand for energy. The Clean Coal Power Initiative sought to support “innovative concepts for reducing mercury, smog-causing nitrogen oxide, and small particulate matter from existing and future power plants.”

    Distributing large sums of...

  7. 4 Aiding and Abetting the President: The Role of Federal Agencies
    (pp. 68-107)

    In the quotation that opens this chapter, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) refers explicitly to a battle that is constantly being waged between the executive and legislative branches of government regarding which one controls public policy. Inhofe defends the power of Congress to direct federal agencies in the allocation of funds. Failure to provide direction amounts to what Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) calls a “surrendering of Constitutional authority to Washington bureaucrats and the Obama Administration.”² Two issues drive this debate and underlie the senators’ concerns: To whom are agencies responsive? Whose preferences do agency outcomes reflect?

    Agency responsiveness to political elites...

  8. 5 Presidential Motives in the Shadow of Crisis
    (pp. 108-132)

    The media often focus on federal spending, producing numerous articles on deficits, debt ceilings, and annual budgets. However, early in 2009, a single federal spending bill dominated media, politics, and everyday conversation as President Barack Obama called on Congress to pass his economic stimulus package. Economists, members of Congress, White House officials, pundits, and journalists floated various opinions about the size of the stimulus. Conservatives wanted the stimulus to range in the low twelve digits—a few hundred billion dollars. Others wanted more than $1 trillion injected into the economy. In fact, Noam Schieber reported that economist Christina Romer, chair...

  9. 6 A Web of Bureaucratic Control
    (pp. 133-152)

    Electoral interests drive presidents to influence the distribution of federal funds. Whether that influence involves targeting funds to swing states or advancing electorally strategic policy goals, presidents seek to get the most out of federal funding allocations. In addition, distributors—executive branch personnel with direct spending authority—have a critical role in helping presidents use the federal largesse as a campaign tool and thereby to realize their goals. This book shows that with a few (predictable) exceptions—namely those involving more insulated, independent institutions—distributors produce policy outcomes that are consistent with the president’s goals.

    This chapter essentially seeks to...

  10. 7 The Mechanisms of Presidential Spending Power
    (pp. 153-188)

    In the regular administration of public policy, the bureaucratic process is difficult to understand and navigate. When politics enters policymaking, the process becomes even more opaque. For personal, reputational, and often legal reasons, political officials have an interest in keeping private the details of how they influence and manipulate policy. Accordingly, throughout history, presidents and their appointees have claimed executive privilege, defended lawsuits, and even resigned in their efforts to keep the administrative process out of the public eye and the hands of Congress.¹

    Bureaucratic outcomes often are readily observable because government reporting—particularly in the context of federal spending...

  11. 8 Conclusions and Implications
    (pp. 189-204)

    Presidents are election-driven individuals who use the formal and informal tools of their office to advance their electoral interests. They engage in a basic, strategic, and widely used behavior among elected officials: pork barrel politics. Presidents wield extensive spending authority and direct federal dollars to swing states in advance of elections as swing states represent a critical constituency that decides whether candidates win or lose presidential elections. Discretionary spending power serves incumbent presidents as a campaign tool to further their reelection efforts and the efforts of their same-party successor.

    Presidents have the motive, means, and opportunity to engage in pork...

  12. References
    (pp. 205-214)
  13. Index
    (pp. 215-222)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-223)