Disjointed Pluralism: Institutional Innovation and the Development of the U.S. Congress

By Eric Schickler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Institutional Development, 1970–1989:
A Return to Party Government or
the Triumph of Individualism?
THE 1970–89 PERIOD began with the conservative coalition still a potent force in congressional politics. Nixon's recent election had generated considerable speculation that conservative Democrats and their Republican allies would speedily recover from the policy setbacks they had suffered at the hands of Lyndon Johnson in the mid-1960s. Even more ominous for liberals, majority party Democrats suffered from weak and aging leadership. John McCormack (D-Mass.), who served as Speaker until January 1971, was widely criticized for haphazard scheduling and poor strategic planning (Bibby and Davidson 1972). McCormack and his leadership team also supported the Vietnam War, estranging them from a growing number of Democrats. Senate leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.), though a foe of the war, eschewed personal power and fostered an environment in which the individual senator was sovereign (Baker 1991). The prospect of Democrats' unifying behind strong leadership to combat a Republican president seemed remote at best.Yet less than two decades later, during the 100th Congress (1987–88), Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and the Democrats scored an impressive array of victories over Ronald Reagan. The Speaker's forceful leadership reminded commentators of not only Wright's own hero, Sam Rayburn, but also of “czars” Thomas Reed and Joseph Cannon (Barry 1989; Peters 1990).This chapter explores the immense changes that reshaped the congressional landscape after 1970. I identified thirteen significant institutional changes during 1970–1989:
1. Adopting the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970
2. Opening up the committee process in the House and Senate through the 1973 and 1975 rules changes requiring committees to meet in public
3. Augmenting the resources of House subcommittees, particularly the Democratic caucus's adopting the subcommittee “bill of rights” in January 1973
4. Creating a new budget process under the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974

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