Congress: A Performance Appraisal

Congress: A Performance Appraisal

Congress: A Performance Appraisal

Congress: A Performance Appraisal

Excerpt

To say Congress is unloved is an obvious understatement. It is loathed and the attitude is pervasive; it is not just conveyed by a few populist politicians and influential talking heads in Washington. As a scholar of Congress, I have recognized its faults for many years, but I always thought such a trenchant assessment was unfair. A couple of years ago I finally decided to stop contemplating and actually test the proposition by writing this book. In it, I establish basic aspirations for Congress informed by contemporary theorists and the country’s Founders. These are then fashioned into more specific targets—I call them benchmarks—by examining what peer legislatures and the House and Senate of the past have done. I evaluate performance by applying the benchmarks to the Congress of today.

Readers are unlikely to interpret the appraisal as a withering assault. A few, however, might view it as an apology, an excuse for an ossified and corrupt body with an uncaring and self-obsessed membership. They would be wrong. It is a comprehensive, accessible, and, I believe, evenhanded evaluation of our national legislature. It is an effort to set the record straight, or at least straighter, for a broad audience—students, scholars, practitioners, and, indeed, anyone with more than a passing interest in the governmental institution the Framers did, after all, decide to make the subject of Article I of the Constitution.

Because this book is essentially the culmination of more than two decades’ worth of thinking about Congress, it would be impossible for me to thank everyone who has contributed to it. I need to make space, however, to mention some particularly important people and experiences. My wife, Jennifer, and children, Matthew and Lindsay, have been a constant source of encouragement and support. So have my parents, John and Ronnie Taylor. My editors at Westview, Toby Wahl and Ada Fung, were always efficient, always helpful. A number of anonymous reviewers spent many valuable hours reading versions of the manuscript. I am very grateful to them. More than a decade ago I was the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) William A. Steiger Congressional Fellow. It was a formative year and helped shape not only my knowledge of Congress but my respect for it too. The School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University provided financial assistance through a summer grant . . .

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