By Constantine J. Spiliotes
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Extra resources for Vicious Cycle: Presidential Decision Making in the American Political Economy (Presidency and Leadership Studies, 9)
In Alesina and Rosenthal (), the macroeconomic outcomes of the partisan business cycle are placed in an institutional context in which voters ﬁrst choose between two polarized presidential candidates in the general election, in keeping with the idea of partisan cleavages during the ﬁrst half of an administration. Voters then use midterm elections to counterbalance the president’s partisan macroeconomic behavior by strengthen- Part I ing the opposition in Congress. Alesina and Rosenthal (, ) follow Chappell and Keech (a, b) in highlighting the importance of swing voters and their pivotal moderating inﬂuence on the extremes of both parties’ macroeconomic behavior.
Several of these scholars have focused on the development of the president’s responsibility for the nation’s macroeconomic health during the Great Depression and following the adoption of the Employment Act of (Stein , ; Walcott and Hult ; Keech ; Frendreis and Tatalovich ; Anderson and Hazleton ; Sundquist ; Rossiter ). These scholars suggest that since presidents are assigned primary statutory responsibility for the nation’s economic health, they are compelled by their institutionally deﬁned role to act to stabilize the economy in the face of inﬂationary spiral and recessionary downturn (Stein , ; Anderson and Hazleton ; Sundquist ; Rossiter ).
This circumstance is attributable to two causes. First, the idea of macroeconomic policy as it has been understood since World War II did not exist. 9 Second, the little institutional responsibility for macroeconomic policy making that did exist on the federal level belonged to Congress. With no federal budget per se, the Treasury acted primarily as bookkeeper, compiling a book of estimates to track federal expenditures and receipts. These estimates were, in turn, submitted directly to Congress without any coordination or clearance by the president.