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Policymakers' Horizon and Trade Reforms

  • Economics
  • Law


Does policymakers’ horizon affect their willingness to support economic reforms? Voting in the U.S. Congress provides an ideal setting to address this question. Differences between the House and Senate, in which members serve two-year and six-year mandates respectively, allow to examine the role of term length; the staggered structure of the Senate allows to compare the behavior of different "generations" of senators and study the impact of election proximity. Considering all major trade liberalization reforms undertaken by the U.S. since the early 1970’s, we find that Senate members are more likely to support them than House members. However, inter-cameral differences disappear for third-generation senators, who face re-election at the same time as House members. Considering Senate votes alone, we find that the last generation is more protectionist than the previous two, a result that holds both when comparing different senators voting on the same bill and individual senators voting on different bills. Inter-generational differences disappear instead for senators who hold safe seats or have announced their retirement, indicating that the protectionist effect of election proximity is driven by legislators’ fear of losing office.

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