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Party Government and the “Cohesive Power of Public Plunder”

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We argue that party government in the U.S. House of Representatives rests on two pillars: the pursuit of policy goals and the disbursement of particularistic benefits. Existing theories of party government argue that the majority party in the House is often successful in biasing policy outcomes in its favor. In the process, it creates “policy losers” among its own members who nevertheless support their party on procedural votes. We posit that the majority party creates an incentive for even the policy losers to support a procedural coalition through judicious distribution of particularistic benefits that compensates policy losers at a rate commensurate with the policy losses that they suffer. We evaluate our theory empirically using the concept of “roll rates” in conjunction with federal domestic outlays data for the period 1983–96. We find that, within the majority party, policy losers are favored in the distribution of “pork barrel” spending throughout this period.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Rice University 2: University of Arizona

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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