Panel Paper: Channeling Information, Setting the Agenda: The President, Congress, and Economic Policymaking

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 8:40 AM
Calhoun (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Barry Pump, Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives

The President holds an informational advantage over Congress in economic policymaking, from the Council of Economic Advisers to the National Economic Council. This advantage becomes important during the uncertain periods at the start of economic downturns, when policymakers cannot agree if the country is facing problems let alone agree upon solutions. This paper examines how the President uses that informational advantage to influence the congressional agenda, redirecting attention to economic issues during recessionary periods. I argue that the scarcity of plenary time in Congress and the need to address other issues make legislators averse to redirecting attention to the economy at the start of downturns because there is uncertainty about whether the country is even headed into recession. The President must then use his informational advantage to convince legislators to address the economy and displace other issues. The delay created by this agenda-setting process means that remedial economic policy may come too late to make a difference. The difficulty of predicting an economic downturn and evaluating the effects of proposed responses makes building inter-institutional consensus around policy priorities exceptionally challenging.