Congress OverwhelmedThe Decline in Congressional Capacity and Prospects for Reform

Congress OverwhelmedThe Decline in Congressional Capacity and Prospects for Reform

Timothy M. LaPira, Lee Drutman, and Kevin R. Kosar

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226702438

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Congress is overwhelmed. It has become so overwhelmed its constitutional status as a co-equal branch of government is at serious risk. In this volume, leading congressional scholars explore the causes and consequences of Congress’s decades-long neglect in itself. The first branch of government no longer has the capacity to govern as it once did. The volume explores the state of congressional capacity, or the human capital and other resources that Congress has available to perform its role in resolving public problems by legislating, budgeting, holding hearings, conducting oversight, and serving constituents. In so doing, it offers a new perspective to existing scholarship, which focuses only on partisan polarization as the source for legislative dysfunction. The chapters assess Congress’s declining capacity using a variety of analytic approaches and data sources. Several contributions report the first findings from the 2017 Congressional Capacity Survey, the largest and most comprehensive mixed-method study of congressional staff ever conducted. Some chapters investigate Congress’s political development to illuminate how capacity has changed throughout history in response to broader political forces. Others evaluate how Congress manages its legislative workload despite heightened polarization and the perpetual campaign. And, several scholars explore how Congress could reform itself. Taken together, the volume offers new ways for thinking about congressional capacity, and ample evidence to show that Congress is approaching, if it has not already reached, the nadir of its ability to solve problems on behalf of the American people.

Table of Contents

Front Matter

1 Overwhelmed: An Introduction to Congress’s Capacity Problem

Timothy M. Lapira, Lee Drutman, and Kevin R. Kosar

Part 1 The Foundations of Congressional Capacity

Part 2 Knowledge and Expertise in Congress

5 The Congressional Capacity Survey: Who Staff Are, How They Got There, What They Do, and Where They May Go

Alexander C. Furnas, Lee Drutman, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Timothy M. Lapira, and Kevin R. Kosar

Part 3 The Politics of Capacity in the Legislative Process

11 The Issue Dynamics of Congressional Capacity

Jonathan Lewallen, Sean M. Theriault, and Bryan D. Jones

12 Congressional Capacity and Reauthorizations

E. Scott Adler, Stefani R. Langehennig, and Ryan W. Bell

13 How Experienced Legislative Staff Contribute to Effective Lawmaking

Jesse M. Crosson, Geoffrey M. Lorenz, Craig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman

14 Capacity in a Centralized Congress

James M. Curry and Frances E. Lee

Part 4 Capacity and the Politics of Reform