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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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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 27 July 2021

Capacity in a Centralized Congress

Capacity in a Centralized Congress

(p.225) 14 Capacity in a Centralized Congress
Congress Overwhelmed

James M. Curry

Frances E. Lee

University of Chicago Press

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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