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The Politics of Social Policy Reform in the United States: The Clinton and the W. Bush Presidencies Reconsidered


  • Daniel Béland
  • Alex Waddan


The purpose of this paper is to examine what key reform attempts during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies reveal about the wider possibilities for social policy change in the United States. Most particularly, why were Presidents Clinton and Bush able to achieve their goals in some policy realms but so badly defeated in others? As argued, institutional variation from one policy area to another helps answer this question. On the one hand, strong institutional obstacles in the fields of Social Security and health insurance largely explain the defeat of the most ambitious social policy proposal put forward by each president. On the other hand, successful reforms occurred in a comparatively favourable institutional context. Yet, the analysis also suggests that paying close attention to the strategic ideas of political actors as they interact with existing institutions and policy legacies is necessary to fully understand the politics of social policy reform.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel Béland & Alex Waddan, 2008. "The Politics of Social Policy Reform in the United States: The Clinton and the W. Bush Presidencies Reconsidered," Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers 232, McMaster University.
  • Handle: RePEc:mcm:sedapp:232

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:cup:apsrev:v:98:y:2004:i:02:p:243-260_00 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. R. Kent Weaver, 2005. "Public Pension Reform in the United States," Chapters,in: Ageing and Pension Reform Around the World, chapter 11 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    3. Hacker, Jacob S., 2001. "Learning from Defeat? Political Analysis and the Failure of Health Care Reform in the United States," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 31(01), pages 61-94, January.
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    More about this item


    social policy; Medicare; Social Security; welfare; institutions; United States;

    JEL classification:

    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

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