Current Research

– Museums Project, con Laia Balcells (Duke University) y Elsa Voytas (Princeton University)

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– Pathways to Legislation: Executive Decrees and Congress in the Legislative Process

Most Latin American presidents enjoy ample prerogatives over the lawmaking process: beyond veto powers, they can initiate legislation, they have policy areas reserved for their exclusive initiative, some enjoy ample prerogatives over the budgetary process, and some can even control what the legislature will do at any given time. As if this were not enough, in many countries, presidents can sidestep the legislative process, changing policies by decree.

The puzzle this book tackles lies on the fact that despite the possibility and frequent use of decree authority, policies are enacted through congressional statutes constantly. And although many countries have established constitutional decree authority (CDA, following Carey and Shugart’s 1998 terminology), even where presidents are perceived to be very powerful, there is huge variation in the extent to which they use this prerogative.

This book offers an explanation that draws attention to the effect of politicians’ appreciation of their institutionally mandated roles, which the book denominates institutional commitment. It argues that it is legislators’ appreciation of their decision rights that makes the difference in terms of their acceptance of encroachment by the executive, even as the decision making process is placed under stress by agents external to government. In this vein, the theoretical model developed in the book highlights that the choice between decrees and statutes is a function of three elements: (1) most obviously, the rules establishing which institutional actors can decide on legislation, (2) the extent to which politicians value and defend their institutionally prescribed roles, and (3) the role played by external actors, i.e., agents external to government. The executive, Congress, and the Supreme Court are brought into the analysis of the calculations underlying the choice of legislative path, in the understanding that the three institutional actors are co-determinants of each other’s fates.

The book analyses the cases of Argentina and Brazil in depth, with an eye on within country variations. It also looks across Latin American countries to test the broader claims of the theory, and finds that variations in levels of institutional commitment do affect the choice to rely on decrees vs statutes.