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Capacity in a Centralized Congress

Capacity in a Centralized Congress

Chapter:
(p.225) 14 Capacity in a Centralized Congress
Source:
Congress Overwhelmed
Author(s):
James M. CurryFrances E. Lee
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226702605.003.0014

The erosion of decentralized and committee-led legislative processes is often blamed for declines in Congress’s lawmaking capacity. Under this diagnosis, many scholars and observers argue that Congress should restore “regular order” processes. We argue that while decentralized approaches to lawmaking worked in earlier, less partisan eras to resolve legislative conflict, those approaches are not well suited to contemporary conditions. Drawing on data on congressional lawmaking and interviews with long-time members of Congress and congressional staff, we argue that Congress often employs centralized processes in an effort to maintain lawmaking capacity in a contentious political environment prone to gridlock. To make this case, we show that laws passed using centralized procedures are not more partisan than those enacted via regular order. Rather than tools to jam through partisan laws, centralized processes are often employed because they confer advantages—including efficiency, secrecy, and flexibility—that enable congressional negotiators to pass legislation under challenging circumstances.

Keywords:   congressional capacity, regular order, legislative procedure, unorthodox lawmaking, bipartisanship, Congress

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