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Congressional Capacity and Reauthorizations

Congressional Capacity and Reauthorizations

(p.191) 12 Congressional Capacity and Reauthorizations
Congress Overwhelmed
E. Scott AdlerStefani R. LangehennigRyan W. Bell
University of Chicago Press

The capacity of Congress to govern is increasingly a concern. In this paper, we focus on one fundamental and sizable responsibility of lawmakers in Washington – renewing and updating the vast array of federal programs and agencies that are authorized for a limited time that must be renewed periodically. Using the United States Code, we collect all legislative expirations and track their renewal over time. We reveal that expiring authorizations are more prevalent in some issue areas than in others. We also find that across the entirety of federal policy, Congress has increasing difficulty keeping up with the growing number of expired programs and agencies. Finally, we find that partisan divisiveness and public mood for more government activism within an area of federal policy are significantly related to Congress’s ability to renew expiring legislation. These findings suggest that temporary authorizations reveal important information about Congress’s capacity in a way not examined by previous research.

Keywords:   authorizations, expiring legislation, gridlock, federal policymaking, legislative productivity, US Code, congressional capacity, Congress

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