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Download Committees in Congress (Political Economy of Institutions) epub

by Christopher J. Deering

Providing a comprehensive examination of the origins, development, and status of committees and committee systems in both the House and Senate, this edition carries on the book's tradition of comprehensive coverage, empirical richness, and theoretical relevance in its discussion of these essential and distinguishing features of our national legislature. While the second edition focused on the "post-reform" committee systems, addressed the shifts in the internal distribution of power, and hinted at the forces that had already begun to undermine the power of committees, this edition updates that analysis and looks at the reforms that evolvied under the Republicans. It offers complete coverage of the rules and structural changes to the House and Senate committee systems. It extends its discussion of committee power and influence in the context of the "Contract with America," Republican reforms, and the inter-party warfare on Capitol Hill.
Download Committees in Congress (Political Economy of Institutions) epub
ISBN: 0871878186
ISBN13: 978-0871878182
Category: Other
Subcategory: Social Sciences
Author: Christopher J. Deering
Language: English
Publisher: CQ Press; Third edition (January 1, 1997)
Pages: 272 pages
ePUB size: 1373 kb
FB2 size: 1947 kb
Rating: 4.3
Votes: 241
Other Formats: lrf docx txt mbr

Deering and Smith examine the role of committees in Congress, particularly how they are structured, how they exercise power, and how the committee system has changed over time.

Deering and Smith contend that Congress is influenced by two structures, the committee structure, and the party structure. The committee structure is often explained from a Distributive Committees Perspective which contends that members "self select" on to various committees because they are interested in the policy area, they seek Washington influence, or the policy area is especially important to their constituency. From this perspective, committees are relatively autonomous and are in effect controlled by a strong committee chair that holds his or her position based on seniority. The "party structure" is often explained from a Party-Dominated Committee perspective. This perspective "emphasizes the vital role of the parties in each chamber...Because the control of appointment decisions, the parties have the capacity to shape the composition and policy outlook of their committee contingents"(3). From this perspective, committees are much less autonomous than under the Distributive Committee Model suggests.

Both perspectives have been dominant in government over time. "Thus the history of the modern Congress reflects an ebb and flow of power between parties and committees" (53).
Prior to the 1970s, committees were generally characterized by very strong, autonomous committee chairs. Chairs were appointed by seniority, and essentially maintained their position for as long as they wanted. The jurisdictions of committees were quite narrow, again granting significant power the chair over a specific policy area. Chairs also maintained a great deal of procedural power. Chairs could set the agenda of the committee, appoint members to various subcommittees, decide which bills to consider, and control of bills on the floor (32). These powers allowed the chair to promote measure they supported, and kill measures they disliked regardless of the preferences of the party and rank-and-file members.

In the 1990s, we begin to see pressure to change the system of committee chair dominance. The House adopted rules that weakened the power of the committee chairs. Reforms included the use of secret ballots for committee and subcommittee chairs and ranking minority positions. Rules were formed to limit the number power position members could have. A result of these reforms was a strengthening of subcommittee power, and subsequently the possibly unforeseen result of weakening of party leadership. "Powerful subcommittees can have a decentralizing effect on the institution, and they can weaken the full committee's chairs. Weaker subcommittees allow for a more centralized legislative process, more powerful committee chairs, and potentially closer linkages to party leaders and party programs" (150-51). (Rohde 1991 would, to a point, disagree).

In the 1990s, we begin to see a retrenchment of committee power. In the 1990s, the agenda for congress became much more streamlined which made fewer committees necessary, and partisan difference grew significantly so members had to more closely toe the party line. Newt Gingrich and the GOP leadership began to circumvent the power of committees through the implementation of summits and task forces, the creation of "leadership issues," as well as the use of "multiple referrals." These techniques coupled with a more polarized ideological divide returned some power to the party leadership.

In illustrating the transitions between party leadership and committee leadership, Deering and Smith contend that both the Distributive Committees Perspective and the Party-Dominated Committee Perspective are active in American Congressional politics. The authors write, "if the majority party is highly cohesive on the issues and most issues are salient, then that party will be in a position to impose policy decisions by virtue of numbers and a system of party-dominated committees will then develop" (227). However, when cleavages form, and subsequently the party leadership is weakened, the power of the committee and subcommittee chairs rise, and we may see a return to a Distributive Committee system. Furthermore, we may see a return to the Distributive Committee structure when, "The larger the agenda, the more separable the issues, the more frequently issues recur, and the less salient the issues, the more Congress relies on committees and the less it relies on committees and the less it relies on parties or the parent chambers to make decisions" (228).
Deering and Smith's book is excellent. For how the Congress really works, see the Congressional Deskbook, which is updated every two years and comprehensively describes how Congress really works.
I became aware of the Congressional Deskbook because of a review in last December's CHOICE, which described it as "A valuable, detailed, and highly functional synthesis of information about the legislative branch. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All collections."
The high praise in CHOICE is fully justified, and that is evidenced by the copies of the Deskbook that I have seen in many offices in different federal agencies in Washington, DC.
The Congressional Deskbook is a unique compendium that puts an enormous amount of information about Congress in one place. The publisher, TheCapitol.Net, publishes a couple of excellent Congress-related items in addition to the Deskbook, including the unique Congressional Operations Poster. Their web site,, has lots of useful links for anyone interested in Congress and the federal government.
Your best bet is to buy this book and also get the Congressional Deskbook.
And if you teach the legislative process, you should also look at the Congressional Operations Poster. You can see them at, or search Amazon for ISBN 1587330040
Rolling Flipper
This book can pretty much be summed up by a statement the authors made on p. 113, "No single model can account for the behavior of committees or commitee members."

Yes, that's right - this is a book by two political scientists in which they spend 230 pages explaining the behavior of committees in congress. But they don't believe there's any clear model, guide, or explanation for how it all works.

By the end you'll be asking yourself - why am I reading this?