Hostile Takeover: The House Republican Party, 1980-1995

By Douglas L. Koopman | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
The Partisan Aspects of Congressional
Change

Congress scholars call the late 1960s through the middle 1970s a time of "reform," and identify the time from the late 1970s to the middle 1990s as the "post-reform era." The wave of changes with the Republican takeover has not yet gained a label. The reform era saw greater rank-and-file access to power, while the post-reform era brought a steady trend toward centralization of power within the majority-party leadership, rather than committees.

A traditional organizing principle of research on Congress has been its norms. 1 In the post-reform era Republicans came to see norms as partisan tools to aid, cover, and justify expanded Democratic power. The four traditional norms in the House of Representatives are seniority, specialization, reciprocity, and institutional loyalty. 2 The seniority norm is apparent when committee chairs and party leadership positions go to senior members. This norm would be violated when, for example, younger members conspicuously supported a leadership candidate not blessed by the sitting leaders, as occurred in the 1989 GOP Whip race. The specialization norm requires members to focus on their committees' jurisdictions and stay out of other areas. Violations occur when members join ideological caucuses, or organize intraparty groups that address a broad range of issues. Clearly, Gingrich's Conservative Opportunity Society violated this norm. The reciprocity norm involves matters of personal conduct—horse-trading, log-rolling, and mutual comity should govern personal relationships. Gingrich probably was most noted for violating this norm. The institutional loyalty norm contends that no issue is important enough to destroy the chamber. House Democratic Whip Tony Coelho often said

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