Random animal picture.
Many Americans at one time or another were taught in public school a little bit about "how a bill becomes law." The textbook version leaves out a lot of the chaos, messiness and such. As a bit of a policy wonk, I find this kind of thing fascinating, but the subject really matters to lots of real people, with the current health care reform debate being a case in point.
I've found John Kingdon's 1984 book Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies to be as good an analysis of how these things happen as I've seen anywhere. According to Kingdon, public policy happens through a series of processes that includes:
*the setting of the agenda, which lays out the big picture list of subjects that are on the metaphorical table for action. Elected officials tend to play leading roles in this, but they aren't the only actors;
*the development of policy alternatives relevant to the agenda from which a choice is to be made. This is more detailed and specific and usually involves people less visible than presidents or elected officials, such as staffers, researchers, interest groups, advocates, policy wonks, etc.;
*a decision or choice among the alternatives that have been developed; and
*the actual implementation of the decision.
Agenda setting is very important because not much happens unless a policy option makes it there to start with. According to Kingdon, the agenda
is a list of subjects or problems to which governmental officials, and people outside of government closely associated with those officials, are paying some serious attention at any given time. Out of the set of all conceivable subjects or problems to which officials could be paying attention, they do in fact seriously attend to some rather than others. So the agenda-setting process narrows this set that actually becomes the focus of attention.
Just because an idea makes it to the agenda, there's no guarantee that it will happen: think about George W. Bush's 2005 effort to privatize Social Security. But sometimes it does happen, as was the case with President Obama's support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The jury is still out on health care reform.
More on this to come.
IT'S (NOT) THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT. Krugman's latest argues that addressing climate change won't bring about the apocalypse.
MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL. Here's ABC News on how national awareness of mountaintop removal mining has grown in the last several years.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR DEPARTMENT. The following letter appeared in the Nov. 29 edition of the Charleston Gazette:
A proposed strategy for winning in Afghanistan and then getting out: Negotiate a coal mining deal between Afghanistan and Massey Coal.
Massey would then level all the mountains, and there would be no place for al-Qaida and the Taliban to hide.
URGENT ANCIENT CANNIBALISM UPDATE here.
ON THIS DATE IN HISTORY, my late father said "Where the $*%# is Pearl Harbor?" and prepared to join the Navy.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED