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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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Congress and the Capacity to Act: Overcoming Gridlock in the Senate’s Amendment Process

Congress and the Capacity to Act: Overcoming Gridlock in the Senate’s Amendment Process

(p.162) 10 Congress and the Capacity to Act: Overcoming Gridlock in the Senate’s Amendment Process
Congress Overwhelmed

James Wallner

University of Chicago Press

Congress is broken. For many observers, the reason why is because its members are unable to reach agreement on legislation given the polarized political environment in which they deliberate. Most blame the Senate for this dysfunction. In theory, polarization makes it harder for senators to compromise by increasing the distance between Democrats and Republicans inside the institution. While compelling, such explanations do not account for what happens inside the Senate. This is because polarization is not the proximate cause of gridlock there. Rather, it is the unwillingness of its members to act that is responsible for the Senate’s present dysfunction. Senators appear uninterested in expending the effort required to legislate successfully in a contentious environment. This is evident in the fact that members do not use the resources currently at their disposal to participate in the legislative process. Improving Congress’s capacity for action is thus insufficient for curing its dysfunction as long as this underlying dynamic persists. Only after getting rank-and-file members to reassert themselves will reform effort to improve Congress’s capacity for action help its members perform their lawmaking duties more effectively.

Keywords:   congressional capacity, senate, polarization, partisanship, gridlock, legislative procedure, Congress

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