A case for stronger congressional committees


The attached policy study was co-authored by Adam Chan, a summer 2016 research assistant at the R Street Institute.

With congressional partisanship at record highs and congressional approval ratings at record lows, the federal government’s so-called “first branch” should consider reform. Two recent white papers (one analyzing the House; the other, the Senate ) cast light on the nature of the admittedly complex problem. Together this research suggests that a significant amount of power has shifted to the chambers’ leaders. The legislature has shifted from a “transformative legislature,” which generates and develops legislation, toward an “arena,” which functions to display political clashes or position-taking on externally generated legislation.

Congressional staff and policy wonks have an obvious interest in these papers, because they most immediately bear the burden of the implications. So, too, do the rest of us. Once we understand how the nature of Congress has shifted, we can understand why it does what it does and see a way forward.

Ironically, the clearest path ahead may be to go backward, away from a hierarchical, leadership-dominated model of operating the chambers to one that disperses more power to committees