Iron Triangles -- Jordan Ridgeway An iron triangle is defined as a three-sided, mutually advantageous relationship between members of Congressional Committees, Bureaucrats, and interest groups. Most of the Congressional Committees and Subcommittees have relationships with the agencies whose programs they authorize and appropriate money for. The committees and the bureaucrats from the agencies have close relationships with interest groups that want to influence policy.
The literal components of an iron triangle such as one involving agriculture, includes key members of the House and Senate committees on Agriculture (such as a committee chairman), officials from the US Department of Agriculture (such as a director of a division), and lobbyists who represent an interest group such as the American Farm Bureau Federation. The relationship is simple. The USDA does what the committees want because the (House)committees have the "power of the purse" and in return the USDA gets political support and budget appropriations. The Committees do what the AFBF wants in return for votes and campaign contributions.
These iron triangles exist at the local and state levels as well. For example, one could exist between the North Carolina Farm Bureau, the North Carolina Congressional committees on Agriculture and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. This iron triangle may ensure that hog farmers receive state money from the "Rainy Day Fund" to create sanitary means of hog waste disposal.
The iron triangle is a form of client politics, that is, it is only beneficial to few, but a large part of society will pay the cost. They are also very difficult to penetrate or influence from outside of the iron triangle. Even presidents have a great deal of difficulty penetrating them. This is, for the most part, not democratic. The voters only have influence over the members of Congress involved. The essential control of the law lies with the interest group. The people can do nothing to control the interest group as long as it is not breaking the law. The same is true with the Bureaucracy. It is almost impossible to fire a bureaucrat. This has a negative effect on democracy, but it is part of American politics. American political ideology derives from the idea of the power of the majority without stepping on the feet of the minority.