Congress as a Handler of Challenges: The Historical Record


David R. Mayhew

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Mayhew, David R. (2015). "Congress as a Handler of Challenges: The Historical Record." Studies in American Political Development, 29(20):185 - 212. DOI:
Can the U.S. Congress address major challenges? Can Congress govern? Questions like these keep getting asked. This article addresses them by consulting the record since 1789. Given the separation-of-powers structure of the American system, such questions cannot be addressed directly. They need to be deconstructed. The presidency needs to enter the discussion, too. Also, what is a major challenge? To identify such challenges, and to supply a way of seeing how and in what respects Congress, as well as in a background frame the U.S. system more broadly, has performed, I draw on comparative analysis. How has the United States participated in thirteen major “impulses” that have invested a comparable set of nations at various times since the late eighteenth century? These challenges range from launching a new nation through building a welfare state through dealing with climate change and debt/deficit problems today.
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