Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Leadership Studies


Contemporary deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility are central to the economic wellbeing of future generations as well as their ability to freely decide their own policy priorities. Many scholarly publications and popular commentary on budget policy describe the obstacles to deficit reduction and political leaders' unwillingness to address the nation's long-term fiscal problems. However, current discussions of budget deficits and the national debt have not been informed by a comprehensive empirical analysis of attempts to reduce the deficit. This thesis examines all deficit-affecting floor amendments to budget legislation from 1975 to 2005 in order to assess whether the bleak account of leadership described by many is true.

It finds that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, leaders have made many attempts to reduce the deficit by a substantial margin, although their efforts have often been stymied by the lack of policy consensus. Democrats are closely split between tax increases and spending cuts while Republicans overwhelmingly favor spending cuts to reduce the deficit. To the extent that the parties' other policy priorities have displaced the desire for balanced budgets, the norm has been displaced only recently. The thesis then looks at the strategies that three Senators - Pete Domenici (R-NM), William Proxmire (D-WI), and Russell Feingold (D-WI) - have employed in attempting to reduce the deficit. In light of the three entrepreneurs' strategies, the thesis considers the potential efficacy of moral arguments in developing recognition of the problem and building policy consensus on how to address it. While moral arguments cannot substitute for substantive policy compromise or mutual trust, they vividly frame the problem, have cross ideological appeal, and can facilitate policy compromise.