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

By Eric Schickler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Understanding Congressional Change

THE PRECEDING four chapters demonstrate that disjointed pluralism has characterized congressional development. In this concluding chapter, I sum up the major patterns that emerge over time and consider the evidence concerning the four claims outlined in chapter 1. I then assess how well alternative theories fare in grappling with this evidence and discuss the relationship of these theories to disjointed pluralism. I conclude with thoughts on the broader implications of disjointed pluralism for political institutions.


MULTIPLE INTERESTS PER CHANGE

The evidence from each period provides strong support for the claim that multiple collective interests shape institutional change. In all but six of the forty-two cases examined, more than one member interest played a significant role.

A critical question is whether the importance of multiple interests depends on how I have defined institutional change. In this study, that definition includes rules and procedures, the committee system, and leadership instruments. Changes in any of these three elements of a legislature's authority structure are included, even if adopted by a party or a faction, rather than by the House or Senate as a whole, or if informal in nature.

Twenty-six of the forty-two cases fit a narrower definition of an institutional change: these were formal changes directly approved by the House, Senate, or both chambers. 1 Interestingly, the creation of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE) in 1946 is the only formal, floor-approved change that is explained by a single interest. By contrast, five of the sixteen cases that did not involve direct floor approval can be explained by a single interest: the rise of centralized Senate party leadership in the late 1890s, the Senate farm bloc in 1921–22, House Republicans' punishment in 1925 of party members who had supported Robert La Follette for president, the conservative coalition's transformation of the Rules Committee in 1937, and the onset of weekly leadership meetings between the president and Democratic leaders in the late 1930s. 2

Thus, support for the multiple interests claim is even stronger if one limits attention to formal, floor-approved changes and excludes informal,

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