We are supposed to solve this exercise by using a game tree: As the chief of staff to Democratic President Warren Zevon, you are tasked with helping the President pass a bill allocating funds to...

We are supposed to solve this exercise by using a game tree:

As the chief of staff to Democratic President Warren Zevon, you are tasked with helping the President pass a bill allocating funds to starving orphans. The president’s party enjoys substantial majorities in both the chambers of Congress. President Zevon would like to work with House minority leader Ketch Secor (R) to pass one of three bipartisan bills providing additional funds for starving orphans. However, if Secor rejects the bipartisan bill endorsed by the President, one of two policies would be enacted without the minority’s support. First, President Zevon and his Democratic majorities could opt to not pass any bill in which case the moderate status quo policy of 4,000,000 dollars per year of orphan funding will be in place. Second, with substantial Democratic majorities in both chambers, Zevon could support a liberal measure sponsored by Representative Tom Waits (D), which would be passed on a straight party vote.

The president is considering publicly endorsing one of three bills that could generate bipartisan support. The first is a more conservative measure written by Senator Steve Earle (D). The measure offers a slight increase in funding over the status quo policy. A second measure, endorsed by Senator Knight (R) is also conservative, but adds political benefits for the President because of the sponsor’s party affilition. Finally, a measure written by Representative Felker (D)  is liberal, but not nearly as aggressive as the Waits bill. Because of a combination of policy and electoral concerns, the president would prefer the Felker bill first, followed by the Knight bill, the Earle bill, the partisan Waits bill and finally the status quo.

Minority Leader Secor wants the Earle bill enacted. It allows him to pass on a partisan fight and still get a policy enacted in line with his party’s preferences. However, if the Earle bill is not endorsed by the president, Secor would like to see the president pass the partisan Waits bill. Doing so would allow the minority to score political points by brandishing the president as a “big-spending” partisan extremist. Secor prefers the Knight bill third, followed by the status quo, and Representative Felker’s bill last.

If the President endorses the Knight bill, what is Secor going to do? Why?

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

What is House Minority Leader Ketch Secor going to do if President Warren Zevon endorses the legislation sponsored by Senator Knight? He'll send lawyers, guns and money, that's what. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Absent from the student's question is any information pertaining to presidential veto threats and to the broader political environment in which the issue in question is being debated. These are not trivial matters, as both weigh heavily on the minds of those tasked with not just leading their parties in Congress, but with advancing the national interest first and foremost. If the president, through his White House minions, has not indicated that he would veto legislation with which he is fundamentally in disagreement, and none of the bills specified would seem to rise to that threshold, than there is minimal pressure for compromise among competing factions, not just between the two main political parties, but within those parties as well. Let's keep in mind the legacy of the once powerful "Blue Dog Democrats," fiscally conservative but (usually) socially-liberal Democrats within the House of Representatives who once represented a formidable force in precisely these kinds of congressional debates.

Also not specified in the student's question is the latitude enjoyed by individual senators, whether of the majority or minority party, to throw procedural obstacles in the way of any legislation with which that senator is in disagreement. These obstacles include placing "holds" on legislation and threatening a filibuster, the mere possibility of which is sufficient to prevent many bills from being voted upon in the Senate. Does any member of the minority party in the Senate feel strongly enough about this issue to threaten such measures unless he or she is promised something -- something that might not even be germane to the underlying issue at hand? If one were to "game" this scenario, these kinds of considerations could not be ignored. A senator strongly opposed to the bill, whichever one reaches "the floor," could block it from coming up for a vote through the use of obstructionist tactics like the filibuster.

But, enough with reality. President Zevon prefers the bill sponsored by Senator Knight because it continues funding for an important program and because Senator Knight is a Republican and the latter's imprimatur would give the president more political protection while imbuing the legislation with the all-important sense of bipartisanship. What, then, would House Minority Leader Secor propose to do? Simple. He would do nothing. Only in the strongly liberal and often ignorance-based world of academia would such an exercise take place. Funds for starving orphans? Really? Republicans support social programs that have records of ameliorating serious problems. One of the signature accomplishments of President Bill Clinton was the successful bipartisan welfare-reform legislation that he signed into law. Republicans don't oppose helping those who genuinely need help. They oppose funding programs that they believe perpetuate underlying problems and the money for which is proven to be largely wasted with little or no improvement for the people for whom it was intended. That is why charitable organizations routinely now publish the data on how much of the contributions they raise go towards the purpose of the organization rather than to merely fund the organization itself. Giving money to organizations, now matter how noble the cause, is a waste if too much of the money goes to pay the organizations' staffs and office spaces rather than directly helping those in need.

Ketch Secor would accept as reasonable the president's agreement to support the Knight bill because House minority leaders have little power over the outcome of legislative processes. The House of Representatives is more dictatorial than democratic, with the minority party largely powerless unless it can appeal to some faction of the majority party that is sympathetic to its policy preferences. That is what made the aforementioned "Blue Dog Democrats" powerful: When the Democrats controlled the House, the minority Republicans could still prevail in budget-related votes by allying themselves with the Blue Dogs, thus forcing more liberal Democrats to compromise, and compromise, at the end of the day, is supposed to be how government works.

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