Tall, Grande, or Venti: Presidential Powers in the United States and Latin America

Download 129.58 Kb.
Date conversion15.02.2016
Size129.58 Kb.
1   2   3   4   5   6


In determining policy outcomes, constitutions vary in endowments they grant their presidents. Beyond these formal powers, presidents also have associated and informal tools to help them implement their agendas. These are complemented by non-formal forces and mechanisms, such as the presidents' partisan powers, a lack of resources, and collective action problems, that limit legislatures' abilities to resist presidential initiatives,. In this paper we argue that these informal and associated mechanisms reinforce presidents in these bargaining games. We argue further that due to decreasing marginal returns, while informal and associated powers are important everywhere, they take special import where constitutions, like that of the United States, grant presidents only weak formal powers.

Our review of unilateral actions by executives in Latin American the United States showed that while many presidents in the former do have stronger formal and reinforced powers, the U.S. president also has many tools and advantages over the legislature. If this constitutionally weak president has such powers, then perhaps comparative studies should recalibrate their scales, focusing only on range from medium to high; low seems an inappropriate label.

Since there seems relative agreement that concentrating too much power in the presidency is dangerous to the quality, if not the stability, of democracy, several countries have already initiated reforms to address the executive-legislative imbalance. Several areas seem ripe for further reform. First, legislatures require more resources and further professionalization. This perhaps justifies international aid and domestic efforts dedicated to modernizing legislatures' technical capabilities and training legislators and their professional staffs. Still, the U.S. experience suggests that even with extensive resources, oversight might be haphazard.

Second, both the United States and Latin American countries should reconsider the issue of legislative vetoes. Even if the legislature has the capacity to oversee executive decisions, if overturning them requires a veto-proof majority of the Congress, then the balance is decidedly in favor of the executive. Since there is also a concern that presidents need the ability to act quickly in response to emergencies, perhaps the Brazilian decree rule, whereby the Congress must either convert the decree to law or it loses validity, would be a good starting point. That type of law could allow the desired governability without significantly degrading the representative system.

Third, the budgetary limitations on many Latin American legislatures are incompatible with the division of powers. If the legislatures are prevented from even considering how to collect and distribute public moneys, then the legislature becomes little more than a forum for debate or a rubber stamp. xxx

Finally, the lack of judicial independence and judicial review has helped Latin American presidents consolidate power, suggesting that judicial reforms could help to limit presidential powers. Many Latin American countries have undertaken significant judicial reforms, and some courts now do have the power to negate laws and decrees. However, without beefing up the legislature and eliminating the restrictions on their abilities to legislate, the judicial reforms cannot redress the executive-legislative balance.


Alemán, Eduardo, and Patricio Navia. 2009. "Institutions and the Legislative Success of 'Strong' Presidents: An Analysis of Government Bills in Chile." The Journal of Legislative Studies 15 (4):401-19.

Alemán, Eduardo, and Thomas Schwartz. 2006. "Presidential Vetoes in Latin American Constitutions." Journal of Theoretical Politics 18 (1):98.

Alemán, Eduardo, and George Tsebelis. 2005. "The Origins of Presidential Conditional Agenda-Setting Power in Latin America." Latin American Research Review 40 (2):3-26.

American Bar Association. 2006. "Task Force Report on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine." WWW.ABANOW.ORG (304).

Ames, Barry. 2002. "Party Discipline in the Chamber of Deputies." In Legislative Politics in Latin America, ed. S. Morgenstern and B. Nacif. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Baldez, Lisa, and John M. Carey. 1999. "Presidential Agenda Control and Spending Policy: Lessons from General Pinochet's Constitution." American Journal of Political Science 43 (1):29-55.

Basabe Serrano, Santiago. 2012. "Judges without Robes and Judicial Voting in Contexts of Institutional Instability: The Case of Ecuador's Constitutional Court." Journal of Latin American Studies 44 (1):127-61.

Bawn, Kathleen. 1995. "Political Control Versus Expertise: Congressional Choices about Administrative Procedures." The American Political Science Review 89 (1):62-73.

Beckmann, Matthew N. 2010. Pushing the Agenda: Presidential Leadership in US Lawmaking, 1953-2004. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Calvo, Ernesto. 2007. "The Responsive Legislature: Public Opinion and Law Making in a Highly Disciplined Congress." British Journal of Political Science 37 (2):263-80.

Cameron, Charles M. 2000. Veto Bargaining: Presidents and the Politics of Negative Power Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Canes-Wrone, Brandice. 2005. Who Leads Whom?: Presidents, Policy, and the Public. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Carey, John M., and Matthew Soberg Shugart. 1998. Executive Decree Authority. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Castagnola, Andrea, and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán. 2011. "Bolivia: The Rise (and Fall) of Judicial Review." In Courts in Latin America, ed. G. Helmke and J. Ríos-Figueroa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cheibub, José Antonio, and Fernando Limongi. 2002. "Democratic Institutions and Regime Survival: Parliamentary and Presidential Democracies Reconsidered." Annual Review of Political Science 5 (1):151-79.

Clayton, Cornell W. 1994. "Separate Branches-Separate Politics: Judicial Enforcement of Congressional Intent." Political Science Quarterly 109 (5):843-72.

Cooper, Joseph. 1983. "Postscript on the Congressional Veto: Is There Life After Chadha?" Political Science Quarterly 98 (3):427-9.

Cooper, Joseph, and William F. West. 1988. "Presidential Power and Republican Government: The Theory and Practice of OMB Review of Agency Rules." The Journal of Politics 50 (4):864-95.

Cooper, Phillip J. 2002. By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

———. 2005. "George W. Bush, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Use and Abuse of Presidential Signing Statements." Presidential Studies Quarterly 35 (3):515-32.

Corrales, Javier. 2011. "A Setback for Chávez." Journal of Democracy 22 (1):122-36.

Cox, Gary W., and Scott Morgenstern. 2001. "Latin America's Reactive Assemblies and Proactive Presidents." Comparative Politics 33 (2):171-89.

Daniel, Frank Jack. 2010. "Venezuela assembly gives Chávez decree powers." Reuters.

Deering, Christopher, and Forrest Maltzman. 1999. "The Politics of Executive Orders: Legislative Constraints on Presidential Power." Political Research Quarterly 52 (4):767.

Ferreira, Rubio D., and Matteo Goretti. 1998. "When the President Governs Alone: The decretazo en Argentina, 1989-93." In Executive decree authority, ed. J. M. Carey and M. S. Shugart. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Fisher, Louis. 1978. "A Political Context for Legislative Vetoes." Political Science Quarterly 93 (2):241-54.

———. 1985. "Judicial Misjudgments about the Lawmaking Process: The Legislative Veto Case." Public Administration Review 45 (Special Issue):705-11.

Garber, Marc N., and Kurt A. Wimmer. 1987. "Presidential Signing Statements as Interpretations of Legislative Intent: An Executive Aggrandizement of Power." Harvard Journal on Legislation 24:363.

Garretón, Manuel Antonio. 1989. The Chilean Political Process. Boston: Unwin Hyman.

Gilmour, Robert S. 1971. "Central Legislative Clearance: A Revised Perspective." Public Administration Review 31 (2):150-8.

Hager, Gregory L., and Terry Sullivan. 1994. "President-centered and presidency-centered Explanations of Presidential Public Activity." American Journal of Political Science 38 (4):1079-103.

Haggard, Stephan, and Mathew D. McCubbins. 2001. Presidents, Parliaments, and Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Helmke, Gretchen. 2002. "The Logic of Strategic Defection: Court-Executive Relations in Argentina Under Dictatorship and Democracy." American Political Science Review 96:291-303.

———. 2005. Courts Under Constraints: Judges, Generals, and Presidents in Argentina. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Helmke, Gretchen, and Julio Ríos-Figueroa, eds. 2011. Courts in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hilbink, Lisa. 2007. Judges beyond Politics in Democracy and Dictatorship: Lessons from Chile. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Howell, William G. 2003. Power without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

———. 2005. "Unilateral Powers: A Brief Overview." Presidential Studies Quarterly 35 (3):417-39.

Ingberman, Daniel E., and Dennis A. Yao. 1991. "Presidential Commitment and the Veto." American Journal of Political Science 35 (2):357-89.

Kernell, Samuel. 2006. Going Public: New Strategies Of Presidential Leadership. Fourth ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Kiewiet, D. Roderick, and Mathew D. McCubbins. 1988. "Presidential Influence on Congressional Appropriations Decisions." American Journal of Political Science 32 (3):713-36.

———. 1991. The Logic of Delegation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Krause, George A., and David B. Cohen. 1997. "Presidential Use of Executive Orders, 1953-1994." American Politics Research 25 (4):458-81.

Krause, George A., and Jeffrey E. Cohen. 2000. "Opportunity, Constraints, and the Development of the Institutional Presidency: The Issuance of Executive Orders, 1939–96." Journal of Politics 62 (1):88-114.

Larkins, Christopher. 1998. "The Judiciary and Delegative Democracy in Argentina." Comparative Politics 30 (4):423-42.

Larocca, Roger T. 2006. The Presidential Agenda: Sources of Executive Influence in Congress. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Leigh, Monroe. 1984. "Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha. 103 S. Ct. 2764." The American Journal of International Law 78 (1):226-30.

Lowi, Theodore J. 1985. "Presidential Power: Restoring the Balance." Political Science Quarterly 100 (2):185-213.

Mainwaring, Scott, and Mathew S. Shugart, eds. 1997. Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, Kenneth R. 2001. With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

McCubbins, Mathew D., and Thomas Schwartz. 1984. "Congressional Oversight Overlooked: Police Patrols Versus Fire Alarms." American Journal of Political Science 28 (1):165-79.

Moe, Terry M. 1993. "Presidents, Institutions, and Theory." In Researching the presidency: Vital questions, new approaches, ed. G. C. Edwards III, J. H. Kessel and B. A. Rockman. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Moe, Terry M., and William G. Howell. 1999. "Unilateral Action and Presidential Power: A Theory." Presidential Studies Quarterly 29 (4):850-73.

Morgenstern, Scott. 2006. "Limits on Exporting the U.S. Congress Model to Latin America." In Exporting Congress?, ed. T. Power and N. Rae. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Morgenstern, Scott, and Benito Nacif, eds. 2002. Legislative Politics in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mustapic, Ana María. 2002. "Oscillating Relations: President and Congress in Argentina." In Legislative Politics in Latin America, ed. S. Morgenstern and B. Nacif. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Negretto, Gabriel L. 2004. "Government Capacities and Policy Making by Decree in Latin America." Comparative Political Studies 37 (5):531-62.

Nelson, Michael. 1989. Congressional Quarterly's guide to the presidency. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc.

Neustadt, Richard E. 1954. "Presidency and Legislation: The Growth of Central Clearance." The American Political Science Review 48 (3):641-71.

———. 1990. Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership From Roosevelt to Reagan. New York: Free Press.

Nino, Carlos. 1993. "On the Exercise of Judicial Review in Argentina." In Transition to Democracy in Latin America. The Role of the Judiciary, ed. I. P. Stotzky. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

O'Donnell, Guillermo. 1994. "Delegative Democracy." Journal of Democracy 5 (1):55-69.

Payne, J. Mark, Daniel G. Zovatto, Fernando Carillo Florez, and Andrés Allamand Zavala. 2002. Democracies in Development: Politics and Reform in Latin America. New York: Inter-American Development Bank and International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

Payne, J. Mark, Daniel G. Zovatto, and Mercedes Mateo Díaz. 2007. Democracies in development: politics and reform in Latin America. Washington, D.C.: Inter-American Development Bank, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.

Pereira, Carlos, Timothy Power, and Lucio Rennó. 2005. "Under What Conditions Do Presidents Resort to Decree Power? Theory and Evidence from the Brazilian Case." Journal of Politics 67 (1):178-200.

Pierce Jr, Richard J. 1985. "Role of Constitutional and Political Theory in Administrative Law." Texas Law Review 64:469.

Rudalevige, Andrew. 2005. The New Imperial Presidency: Renewing Presidential Power after Watergate. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Saiegh, Sebastián M. 2010. "Active Players or Rubber Stamps? An Evaluation of the Policymaking Role of Latin American Legislatures." In How Democracy Works. eds. Carlos Scartascini, Ernesto Stein and Mariano Tommasi. Washington: Inter-American Development Bank.

Samuels, David J. 2002. "Progressive Ambition, Federalism, and Pork-Barreling in Brazil." In Legislative Politics in Latin America, ed. S. Morgenstern and B. Nacif. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. 1974. The Imperial Presidency. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Shugart, Matthew Soberg, and John M. Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tsebelis, George, and Eduardo Alemán. 2005. "Presidential Conditional Agenda Setting in Latin America." World Politics 57 (3):396.

Warber, Adam L. 2006. Executive Orders and the Modern Presidency. Boulder: Lynne Reiner Publishers.

West, William F., and Joseph Cooper. 1989. "Legislative Influence v. Presidential Dominance: Competing Models of Bureaucratic Control." Political Science Quarterly 104 (4):581-606.

Wilson, Bruce M. 2011. "Enforcing Rights and Exercising and Accountability Function: Costa Rica's Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court." In Courts in Latin America, ed. G. Helmke and J. Ríos-Figueroa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, Bruce M., Juan Carlos Rodríguez Cordero, and Roger Handberg. 2004. "The Best Laid Schemes… Gang Aft A-gley: Judicial Reform in Latin America–Evidence from Costa Rica." Journal of Latin American Studies 36 (3):507-31.

FIGURE 1: The Scope and Force of Executive Powers

FIGURE 2. Unilateral Presidential Directives in the U.S. (1993-2011)

FIGURE 3. Comparison of unilateral directives in the U.S. and eight Latin American countries

Note: Case selection based on data availability; Argentina excluded for scaling purposes, since more than one thousand were issued every year

Sources: Agencia Boliviana de Información (http://www3.abi.bo/); Presidencia da República Federativa do Brasil (http://www4.planalto.gov.br/legislacao/legislacao-1/decretos1#content); Presidencia de Colombia (http://web.presidencia.gov.co/decretoslinea/); Sistema de Información para la Gobernabilidad, Ecuador (http://www.sigob.gob.ec/); Secretaría General de la Presidencia de Guatemala (http://www.sgp.gob.gt/Acuerdos.htm); Justicia Nicaragua (http://nicaragua.justia.com/nacionales/decretos-ejecutivos/); National Archives and Records Administration (http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/disposition.html); Presidencia de la República Oriental de Uruguay (http://archivo.presidencia.gub.uy/); Tribunal Supremo de Justicia de Venezuela (http://www.tsj.gov.ve/gaceta/gacetaoficial.asp)

TABLE 1. Examples of Formal and Reinforced Scope and Force*

United States

Latin America

Formal Scope

Constitutional decree powers

Delegated decree powers

Urgency provisions

Exclusive executive initiative for tax or spending bills

Reinforced Scope

Leadership of congressional delegation

Executive Orders

Asserted decree powers, perhaps backed by court decisions

Presidential Memoranda

Declaration of State of Emergency

Presidential Proclamations

Control of cabinet ministers

National Security Directives

Presidential Signing Statements

Central legislative clearance

Recess appointments

Legislative reliance on executive for technocratic expertise

Formal Force

Veto powers

Reinforced Force

Lack of legislative veto

Time limitation on legislation

Judicial review

Partisan powers/control of legislative majority

Congressional collective action problem

Public addresses/public opinion

Bureaucratic control/Ability to delay implementation

Note: The examples for Latin America are not universal. Among others, decree, urgency, budgetary provisions, and veto powers vary widely, as do the presidents' control over legislative majorities and the independence of constitutional courts to enforce judicial review.

TABLE 2: U.S. Executive Orders


Number of Orders


Roosevelt 1933-1945



Truman 1945-1953



Eisenhower 1953-1961



Kennedy 1961-1963



Johnson 1963-1969



Nixon 1969-1974



Ford 1974-1977



Carter 1977-1981



Reagan 1981-1989



Bush 1989-1993



Clinton 1993-2001



Bush 2001- 2009



Obama 2009-Dec. 2011



Source: National Archives and Records Administration


1   2   3   4   5   6

The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page