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The Senate Electoral Cycle and Bicameral Appropriations Politics


  • The authors thank John Ellwood, Diana Evans, Larry Evans, Timothy Groseclose, Frances Lee, Kathryn Pearson, Nelson Polsby, Kenneth Scheve, Eric Schickler, Jasjeet Sekhon, and Brad Van Dam for helpful comments. They also thank participants at the Duke University Conference on Party Effects in the U.S. Senate, as well as participants in seminars at the University of North Carolina, the University of Essex, the London School of Economics, the Harvard Law School, and the Harvard Government Department. Shepsle thanks the National Institute of Aging for financial support (RO1-AG021181).

Kenneth A. Shepsle is George Markham Professor of Government, Department of Government and Institute of Quantitative Social Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138 ( Robert P. Van Houweling is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720 ( Samuel J. Abrams is a PhD student, Department of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138 ( Peter C. Hanson is a PhD student, Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720 (


We consider the consequences of the Senate electoral cycle and bicameralism for distributive politics, introducing the concept of contested credit claiming, i.e., that members of a state's House and Senate delegations must share the credit for appropriations that originate in their chamber with delegation members in the other chamber. Using data that isolate appropriations of each chamber, we test a model of the strategic incentives contested credit claiming creates. Our empirical analysis indicates that the Senate electoral cycle induces a back-loading of benefits to the end of senatorial terms, but that the House blunts this tendency with countercyclical appropriations. Our analysis informs our understanding of appropriations earmarking and points a way forward in studying the larger consequences of bicameral legislatures.