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Do Environmental State Policies Impact National Legislators’ Voting Behavior?

Fri, September 1, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hilton Union Square, Union Square 14


Why and when do Congressional members vote against the majority of their party’s interests? One area within Congressional studies that contains currently limited scope is the exploration of the tension members of Congress face when their home state representation may end up conflicting with their federal level decision to vote along party-lines.

The causal process that we examine further attempts to distinguish how much influence a member of Congress’s home state policies hold in regards to their Congressional voting record, especially when such policies may incentivize the member to extend state benefits nationally even if it isn’t in alignment with their party line.
The specific causal sequence of our theory is:
1. States may adopt a policy that disadvantage that state relative to neighboring or other states in the U.S.
2. This may lead to Members of Congress to prioritize protecting their state’s interests by choosing to vote whenever they can “level the playing field.”
3. This vote might be out of sync with the member’s party’s interests on that particular issue/bill.
4. However, the priority to protect/represent the state’s interests will rise above any party-line vote for those members

Studies interested in this kind of state-federal dynamic have examined whether the innovations that state governments implement hold political influence in a federal system and whether these designs being adopted successfully on a state level “leads to the nationalization of innovations in some cases” (Boeckelman, 1992, p. 365). Boeckelman found that “political pressure, and a degree of unanimity on the part of subnational governments is necessary to insure utilization” of these policies on the national level as well (Boeckelman, 1992, p. 365). Researchers have found that this state-federal dynamic applies within a variety of social spending programs and for the scope of our paper, two specific environmental policy interactions are explored in further depth (Daley & Garand, 2005).
We examine how members of Congress strategically may decide to vote for a policy that on first blush looks to be out of alignment ideologically, but is actually in the member’s home district or state’s best interest given their early adoption of such a policy to have it expand across the country. Since the federal government expects representatives elected from specific states’ interests to look out for their own district, these conditions may actually create a race to the top rather than one to the bottom of lowering regulations, highlighted in many other policy domains (Baysinger, & Butler, 1984; Konisky, 2007; Manna & Ryan 2011; Rabe, 2006; Revesz, 1992).

The main hypothesis that this theory presents is:

H1: Members of Congress from states that have enacted a regulatory policy that contradicts the member’s political ideology will be more likely to vote for federal policies that expand such a policy across the country relative than other members in the same party without such a related policy in their state.

The first case involves renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS) and the related 2007 Congressional vote on the Udall Amendment, which sought to expand such renewable energy portfolio standards to a national minimum standard. RPS policies are designed to ensure “that a minimum amount of renewable energy is included in the state’s portfolio of electric generating resources, and…increase[s] the required amount over time” (Lyon & Yin, 2010, p. 131). The second environmental policy examined is the surge of state-level policy to price carbon emissions through regional cap-and- trade initiatives that began in 2007 and ultimately lead to the U.S. Waxman-Markey Bill being proposed in 2009. These 23 states, by adopting varying policy prescriptions and levers to price carbon through a diversity of trading schemes and agreements may have incentivized federal involvement to help simplify such diverse state-by-state policies. In one researcher’s words, “as different statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction policies…emerge[d] in the United States, more and more businesses…call[ed] on the federal government to enact a single, uniform policy” (Larsen, 2008).

Our analysis shows both examples in the House of Representatives featured both parties breaking ranks and that the votes were largely predicted by which members’ states had adopted (or not adopted) state-level RPS or cap-and-trade policy.