New Ways and Means: Reform and Change in a Congressional Committee

By Randall Strahan | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Open Season on Ways and Means

In an article entitled "Waning Institution?" Wall Street Journal reporter Albert R. Hunt wrote in July 1973 that "the House Ways and Means Committee is being shaken by a subtle upheaval."1 Citing increased infighting on the committee and rules changes that threatened the long established practice of shielding Ways and Means bills from amendments on the House floor, Hunt noted that the cautious, consensus-oriented approach that had been characteristic of Ways and Means decisionmaking under Mills's leadership appeared to be breaking down. In the context of the broader political developments reviewed in the previous chapter, this chapter examines how this "subtle upheaval" became by 1974 an open revolt against the institutional prerogatives and established mode of operation of the Ways and Means Committee.

The early 1970s were a transitional period for the committee. Some of the characteristics portrayed in the Manley and Fenno studies were still visible, but new conflicts had begun to appear within the committee and between the committee and the parent chamber. The first section of the chapter looks at committee politics during this transitional period, which included the demise of Chairman Wilbur D. Mills as a committee and House leader. The chapter then traces the sequence of events through which discontent in the House became channeled into a series of direct assaults on the power and autonomy of the Ways and Means Committee, the most successful of which were mounted from the House Democratic caucus. Finally, the chapter looks briefly at the budget reforms that were also enacted during the mid-1970s. The new budget process had a relatively limited impact on the politics of the Ways and Means Committee in the initial postreform, years, but the new process created possibilities for some major changes in House decisionmaking which were realized in the deficit-driven politics of the 1980s.


The Ways and Means Committee in Transition

Increasing internal conflict in the early 1970s was one sign that the complex of norms and incentives that had influenced the politics of the Ways and Means Committee during the late 1950s and 1960s had begun to

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