Congress, Lawmaking, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, 1971–2000


  • Research supported by a grant from the Dirksen Congressional Center and a grant from the Princeton University Committee of Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences. I thank Nick Carnes and Will Bullock for excellent research assistance and the many people who have given feedback for the many helpful comments. The data and code required to replicate the results in the article and online appendix are available on the author’s webpage.

Joshua D. Clinton is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37240 (


Lawmaking studies and evaluations of competing accounts of policy change cannot easily assess the nature of policy change due to the difficulty of locating the status quo and proposals relative to the preferences of critical political actors. Focusing on activity involving the Fair Labor Standards Act, I investigate how the attempted and successful policy change between the 92nd Congress (1971–72) and the 106th Congress (1999–2000) compares to the predicted lawmaking activity according to dominant lawmaking models. Characterizing the incidence and magnitude of policy change over nearly 30 years reveals that policy change is rarer and smaller than current theories predict. Change occurs when the status quo is more extreme than the preferences of the pivot most supportive of the status quo according to supermajoritarian models, but there are many instances where similarly extreme status quos are left unchanged. Moreover, when change occurs, it exhibits a strong status quo bias and the outcome is often indistinguishable from the preferences of the pivot who most prefers the status quo.