Table of contents: The State in the U.S. Between Political Invisibility and Institutional Fragmentation- Why can't Americans see the State?- Federalism and Policy Instability- Veto-Player or Agent of Reform? Congress, Health Care Entitlements, end the Changing American State- How America's "Devolution Revolution" Reshaped its Federalism Read More
Daniel Béland, François Vergniolle de Chantal
THE STATE IN THE U.S. BETWEEN POLITICAL INVISIBILITY AND INSTITUTIONAL FRAGMENTATION
Since the 1980s, both American political scientists and historians have been rediscovering their "State" and its specificities, especially its relative invisibility and its high degree of fragmentation. This debate paralleled the rise of new methodologies in political science, such as historical institutionalism and American Political Development (APD). This introduction summarizes the key elements of these methodologies while presenting the articles making up this special issue.
WHY CAN'T AMERICANS SEE THE STATE?
This essay examines public-sector employment in order to grasp the distinctive character of the American state. Looked at comparatively, the American state is anything but small or weak. Rather, befitting a federal system, public authority in the United States is exercised largely through state and local government. What is distinctive about the American state is the concentration of public-sector employment in three areas: education, defense, and public safety. This pattern reflects a historical legacy of American state-building. The result has been a set of institutions that hides or conceals public authority in various ways.
Timothy J. Conlan
FEDERALISM AND POLICY INSTABILITY: CENTRALIZATION AND DECENTRALIZATION IN CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN FEDERALISM
From a long historical perspective, American federalism has undergone a secular trend toward governmental centralization. State and local governments continue to play vital roles in politics, policy making, and policy implementation in the United States, but the balance of power and resources has shifted toward Washington. Masked within this long term trend have been many shorter cycles of political centralization and decentralization, however. This article examines the intergovernmental implications of the national policy changes adopted over the past thirty years, with a particular focus on the interactions between American federalism and the welfare state. It discusses the political forces that appear to have increased the volatility of centralizing and devolutionary cycles in American politics, and it places these changes into broader historical perspective.
Kimberly J. Morgan
VETO-PLAYER OR AGENT OF REFORM? CONGRESS, HEALTH CARE ENTITLEMENTS, AND THE CHANGING AMERICAN STATE
Congress presents an array of hurdles to potential legislation. This paper reconsiders that view in light of some important changes made to health policy in the past three decades. The passage of these reforms reflects changes in the functioning of Congress, including the construction of greater bureaucratic capacity and centralization of power in the hands of party leaders. The findings of the paper have implications for scholars of the American state, who tend either to ignore Congress or to view it as a source of political fragmentation. Congress should be thought of as an important component of the overall state apparatus and it is not only a veto player, but also at times an agent of reform.
HOW AMERICA'S "DEVOLUTION REVOLUTION" RESHAPED ITS FEDERALISM
American federalism is constantly in flux. The “devolution revolution” of the mid-1990s gave states tremendous power to rewrite the rules of their welfare programs, changed the fiscal incentives that states face, and initiated a massive health insurance expansion funded primarily by the federal government but implemented, with great latitude, by states. How did states react? How did this change the social safety net in the United States, and how did it reshape the nation's distinct brand of federalism? This essay explores these questions; both through a close focus how devolution played out in California and through a broader look at trends across the states.