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

By Randall Strahan | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
The Politics of Taxation, 1975-1984

To assess both the consequences of reform-era changes and the utility of the purposive theories of Mayhew and Fenno for understanding the effects of institutional change, this chapter and the one that follows will examine policymaking on the Ways and Means Committee in the area of federal taxation over the period from 1975 to 1986. These chapters do not pretend to offer a comprehensive account of the politics of federal taxation during this period, but instead focus primarily on two aspects of Ways and Means Committee members' behavior: partisanship and responsiveness to particularistic interests and clientele groups seeking tax benefits.1

The two theoretical perspectives that were employed in Chapter 4 to consider reform-era institutional changes suggest different consequences for politics and policy outcomes on the postreform Ways and Means Committee. With the reduction and devaluation of the selective incentive of institutional prestige associated with committee membership, the electoral connection model leads to the expectation that, in money decisions that offer ample opportunities for targeting benefits to electoral supporters, increased particularism and servicing of organized clientele groups should be evident. Fenno's multiple goal theoretical framework, on the other hand, suggests that changes in members' goals and environmental constraints in the aftermath of the reform era should produce new patterns in committee politics where pursuit of partisan or policy goals assumes much greater importance, with limited evidence of increased particularism or servicing of clientele groups likely.

Reformers in the 1970s dismantled many of the institutional underpinnings of the prereform pattern of restrained partisanship, limited responsiveness to clientele interests, and conservative tendencies in policy outcomes that characterized the Ways and Means Committee for most of the Mills era. After 1974 a new institutional environment existed in which the committee enjoyed considerably less procedural autonomy from rank and file House members, from clientele groups, and from the majority party caucus and its leadership. Significant changes from the Mills-era patterns in committee politics have appeared in the postreform years, but these do not fit a simple pattern of either increased policy activism and partisanship or increased particularism and responsiveness to clientele interests. The pat-

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