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Congress OverwhelmedThe Decline in Congressional Capacity and Prospects for Reform$
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Timothy M. LaPira, Lee Drutman, and Kevin R. Kosar

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226702438

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226702605.001.0001

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Capacity for What? Legislative Capacity Regimes in Congress and the Possibilities for Reform

Capacity for What? Legislative Capacity Regimes in Congress and the Possibilities for Reform

(p.11) 2 Capacity for What? Legislative Capacity Regimes in Congress and the Possibilities for Reform
Congress Overwhelmed

Lee Drutman

Timothy M. Lapira

University of Chicago Press

This chapter provides a new analytical framework to assess congressional capacity. The framework is based on two institutional tradeoffs: organizational structure (centralization vs. decentralization) and resource allocation (simplicity vs. complexity). The interaction of these factors generates four ideal-type congressional capacity regimes: parochial patronage, adversarial clientelism, pluralist adhocracy, and consensual coalition. Driven by the reelection motivation, members of Congress respond to pent up political pressures by reorganizing institutions through cyclical changes to one or both of the dimensions. The outcome is a rare moment of institutional reform that changes the congressional capacity regime. The chapter uses the framework to briefly analyze historical examples of each capacity regime. The authors suggest the current adversarial and clientialistic Congress is poised to reorganize these institutions, though it is unpredictable when or which reforms will be adopted. The chapter does not offer normative reform prescriptions, but instead offers reformers a road map for thinking through the costs and benefits of adopting some arrangements over others.

Keywords:   congressional capacity, congressional staff, organizational structure, resource allocation, political time, political reform, Congress

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