Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science
How do individual members of Congress change public policy? While some members use the standard practice of climbing to the top of a committee to change policy, this avenue can only be used by a select number of members on any given policy. Yet, members of Congress outside of the normal committee control system have in the past shift public policy by taking power away from committee leaders. How has this happened? I argue that members of Congress use changes in issue salience as a subsidy, a cheap form of information that helps members make policy decisions. Members use increased salience on an issue area to engage in that issue in media, pushing policy leaders who would normally avoid media involvement on owned issues. Using an original dataset of articles in The Washington Post on 10 issues between the years 1977 and 2012, I explore the question of member engagement and issue salience. I find that when average salience is generally low, members of Congress use increases in issue salience to push for policy change, and that these increases can lead to shifts in public policy. At a high average level of salience, members must instead bring the media to them by cultivating interest, as all members already have a sense of the importance of the issue. The work here further explores the larger question of how individual members of Congress change public policy and also highlights the back and forth relationship between the Congress and the political media.