Cultivating Congress

Constituents, Issues, and Interests in Agricultural Policymaking

William P. Browne

Congress in the mid-1990s remains the object of voter discontent. Public outcries against special interests and unresponsive incumbents have amplified an already pervasive skepticism toward Beltway politics. And while Congress continues to conduct its business, William Browne argues that it is no longer business as usual.

Browne opens up the inner sanctums of Congress to reveal how that institution's daily operations-i.e., its policymaking processes-have changed dramatically. He argues that Congress is no longer dominated by party and committee power-brokers, large organized interest groups, or intrusive federal agencies. Instead, he contends, congressional members are driven largely by grassroots issues and constituent interests.

“What a superb book—not only about how agricultural policy is made but also about fundamental changes in the way Congress now works, irrespective of policy domain. No one has a more complete fix on how Washington works today than Bill Browne. His book is a real winner.”

—James T. Bonnen, past president, American Agricultural Economics Association

“Browne provides a remarkable and incisive analysis and guide to the new world of a post-reform Congress. This unique and engaging book is directly relevant and useful to any observer of Congress. It is simply the best analysis of the fundamental changes now engulfing agricultural and rural development policy.”

—Louis Swanson, editor of Agricultural Policy and the Environment

See all reviews...

This shift occurred in response to reforms that diluted the congressional seniority system and empowered the rank-and-file to exert greater influence in policymaking. More members now generate more issues much earlier in that process, resulting in a greater diversity of views in previously entrenched policy domains, but also greater disorganization and less predictability.

Those changes are nowhere more apparent than in the ever shifting arena of agricultural policymaking, which, as the single largest contributor to our GNP, remains a central part of American politics. As agriculture has become more fragmented, globalized, and environmentally aware, agricultural policymaking has grown increasingly complex. In the process, a cacophony of constituent policy demands has altered the way congressional members "play the game." Browne reveals exactly how that new game is played.

Based on nearly 450 interviews with members of Congress, their staff, agency administrators, and lobbyists, Browne's study is timed to appear during the 1995 Congressional debates over a major new agriculture bill. His book should become a major resource—for congressional staff, journalists, political scientists, economists, lobbyists, and policy administrators—for understanding those debates.

About the Author

William P. Browne, professor of political science at Central Michigan University, is the author of Private Interests, Public Policy, and American Agriculture; World Food Policies; and Sacred Cows and Hot Potatoes: Agrarian Myths in agricultural Policy.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series