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Congress in Reverse

Repeals from Reconstruction to the Present

After years of divided government, countless Republicans campaigned on a promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Yet when they took control of both chambers of Congress and the White House in 2017—after six years that included more than fifty symbolic votes and innumerable pledges—they failed to repeal the bulk of the law. Pundits were shocked, and observers and political scientists alike were stuck looking for an explanation. What made Obamacare so hard to repeal? And in a larger sense: What explains why some laws are repealed, and yet others endure in spite of considerable efforts? Are repeals different from law-making or do they mirror one another? Why are repeals more likely at some times than others? What theories of legislative behavior and policymaking explain when repeals happen?
Congress in Reverse is the first book to attempt to answer these questions. Jordan M. Ragusa and Nathaniel A. Birkhead examine when and why existing statutes are successfully “undone,” arguing that repeals are most common when the parties are united on the issue—which was not the case when it came to Obamacare for the Republican Party—and the majority party wins control of Congress after a long stint in the minority. By shifting focus from the making of laws to their un-making, Congress in Reverse opens up a new arena for studying legislative activity in Congress.

184 pages | 22 line drawings, 17 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Political Science: American Government and Politics


“Birkhead and Ragusa have completed an impressive and first of its kind study of congressional efforts to repeal major statutes—such as the highly-publicized attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Armed with more than a century’s worth of data, they show that repeals face unique constraints and pose unique political, policy, and institutional challenges. Well-written and impactful, Congress in Reverse sheds new light on some of the most important legislative efforts undertaken in American history.”

James M. Curry, University of Utah

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: When and Why Repeals Occur
Chapter 2: Significant Repeals, Killer Congresses, and Doomed Statutes
Chapter 3: Problem-Solving Efforts
Chapter 4: Partisan Motivations
Chapter 5: Preferences of Lawmakers
Chapter 6: Conclusions and Discussion

Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Appendix D


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