For scholars and practitioners, presidential influence is difficult to divine because of the relative secrecy that surrounds White House efforts, especially direct presidential efforts to influence the votes of members of Congress. This book is about presidential influence in the context of the rivalry between the president and Congress over the power of the purse, the power to spend money. The current battle between the branches over earmarks—which continues to escalate as President Bush’s veto of the 2007 Water Resources Authorization Bill illustrates—began with this first “shot across the bow.”9 The water wars represent Jimmy Carter’s provocative attempt to change the way that Congress spent money, and he challenged them ontheir turf. Carter fully engaged Congress, the White House, and himself in a high-profile battle over the way that Congress funds water projects.
By focusing on this single case—the case of the water wars—and capitalizing on some unique data, we provide substantial insight into how a modern president seeks to influence Congress. We do this by quantitatively estimating whether Jimmy Carter exercised influence on members that led to the defeat of the override motion. In contrast to casual observations of his presidency, we demonstrate that Jimmy Carterwas capable of influencing congressional outcomes. And he was able to do so despite considerable challenges. Some of these challenges were rooted in his governing philosophy. Jimmy Carter believed that good policy was good politics. As one of his former advisers said,