For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Congress and Policy Change
  • Gerald C. Wright, Jr., University of Indiana; Leroy N. Rieselbach, University of Indiana; and Lawrence C. Dodd, University of Colorado, Editors
Reviews Table of Contents Introduction «Back
Congress and Policy Change  .
Sound Bite

This book is about congressional policy making, and particularly processes by which congressional policy changes — and does not change. At times in our history Congress has been a policy initiator, at others it has been the bastion of resistance to new directions of government action. It reflects the will of the citizenry at times, while at others its rules and processes have done more to serve the interests of special and minority interests.

In this collection of original essays, each presenting new research on the personal, political, and institutional factors influencing congressional policy change, eleven leading congressional scholars discuss Congress's policy making role from a variety of perspectives. The cumulative effect is to present a coherent and stimulating view of the processes of congressional policy making and policy change.


About the Author

Gerald Wright, Jr. is Associate Professor of Political Science at Indiana University and Director of the Indiana Political Data Archive and Laboratory. He was previously Program Director for Political Science at the National Science Foundation. His research interests are in congressional and state elections and particularly on the relationship between public opinion and public policy. He is the author of Electoral Choice in America as well as numerous articles in professional journals.

Leroy N. Rieselbach is Professor of Political Science at Indiana University. His  research focuses on Congress, and his publications include The Roots of Isolationism  (1966); Congressional Politics (1973);  and other books, as  well as a variety of journal articles and chapters contributed to books.  

Lawrence C. Dodd is Professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Director of the University’s Center for the Study of American Politics. He is currently working on a general theory of legislative change, focused particularly on the US Congress. Additional research interests include a comparative state study of the career patterns of professional and citizen legislators, and a crossnational study of the effect of electoral laws on the representativeness of democratic regimes. He is the author of Coalitions in Parliamentary Government; the coauthor, with Richard Schott, of Congress and the Administrative State; and the coeditor, with Bruce Oppenheimer, of Congress Reconsidered.    

About the Book

More than the other branches of our national government, the presidency and the Supreme Court, those who study Congress have had personal contact with that institution and its members. The 535 members of Congress are necessarily more accessible...

More than the other branches of our national government, the presidency and the Supreme Court, those who study Congress have had personal contact with that institution and its members. The 535 members of Congress are necessarily more accessible than one President and his immediate staff, or the nine justices of the Court, and many congressional scholars have had experience as legislative staff or congressional fellows. The presidency and the Court, by comparison, are more remote and less accessible, and probably to some extent because of this, less thoroughly studied than the House of Representatives and Senate.

The major reason for studying Congress, however, is its constitutional role as the chief policy-making body in the country. The policy-making process in Congress is complicated greatly by our expectations that members of Congress act as representatives. They are delegates for the interests of their districts and their states and as such are necessarily in regular contact with their constituents and spokespersons for policy interests. They need to be concerned with reelection and with achieving personal, partisan, and constituent goals in Washington. As the size of government has grown, so has the policy-making role of all branches of the government, and for Congress, especially, this has entailed tremendous growth in its internal complexity, staff, and the demands placed on its members. These, like changes in the nature of elections over the last thirty years, have important and varied effects on the policies that Congress adopts.

Studying the processes of policy change in Congress and the forces that give rise to change presents interesting challenges. Congress is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than the representatives and senators that fulfill those roles at any time; more than the buildings on Capitol Hill; and more than a reflection of the wishes and interests of people the institution represents. Congress is all of these things plus its evolving norms and rules for how it makes decisions. It is a complex institution, composed of elected representatives and senators, staff, and historical traditions, all interacting with ever growing sets of interest groups, as well as the demands and constraints placed upon it by a national agenda of economic, social, and technical problems as well as other institutions of government.

Congress considers thousands of bills each session and, in recent years, it enacts into law around a thousand bills each congress. Much of this is of little consequence for the country. The effects of most bills are negligible, while a few do bring about noticeable, but still incremental, policy change. Major policy change, departures that chart genuinely new directions of governmental action, or initiate government action in new areas, is rare. To achieve it requires special sets of circumstances-discussed at length in the essays here-and these must be viewed in the context of an institution better suited to protecting the status quo than to embracing bold policy actions.

The first chapter is an overview of Congress and the policy process from the perspective of the individual member of Congress. Lawrence Dodd develops a theory of congressional behavior that rests on a simple set of assumptions about the goals of individual representatives. He then builds on these in the context of Congress to lay out for us an unusually comprehensive view of the relationship among members’ goals, the institution of which they are a part, and the policies they bring into being.

From this overview we then stand back from the institution in the second section and look at congressional elections and their effects on congressional policy change. In chapter 2, David Brady provides a perspective on the nature of electoral realignments and how these influence policy change in Congress. The time perspective is shorter in the research presented by Edward Carmines and James Stimson in chapter 3. They describe the evolution of the civil rights issue in the Congress since World War II and they explain the dynamics by which the parties took clearly opposing stands on racial issues, arguably the most important and enduring cleavage of American politics. In both of these chapters we see how elections bring about changes in Congress, and how these changes then influence the policies and consequent behavior of parties, and, through this, the voters in U.S. national politics. The final chapter in this section, by Gerald Wright, shows the potential for policy change in the current era, and then describes the incumbency advantage in House elections, which has grown substantially in the last 30 years, has a major dampening effect on the responsiveness of Congress to electoral change.

The essays that make up the third section, chapters 5 and 6, ask how the electoral campaigns-periodically faced by all members of Congress influence what members do. Here, Marjorie draws on social learning theory to illuminate what learn from their campaign experiences and how this influences the goals they adopt and the roles they set for themselves. Richard essay draws on his close-hand relations with senators, first in the 1980 elections and then in Washington. He paints a vivid portrait of what he calls “the adjustment process,” the crucial transition from a campaigner to legislator. Understanding not just that there are different arenas in which congressmen operate but the effects of one on the other informs our analysis of members’ behavior in the institution and in the policy-making process. The next section focuses on how congressional procedures and leadership combine to affect the nature and processes of coalition building in Congress.

Without highly disciplined parties, policy change must necessarily be preceded by the difficult task of putting and holding together majority coalitions. In chapter 7, Barbara Sinclair discusses the resources and strategies employed by the leadership in the House of Representatives, and how the challenges of the leadership have evolved over time. Roberta Herzberg in chapter 8 lays out for us the many mechanisms used for blocking legislation and thereby highlights the challenge faced by coalitions builders in today’s Congress. John Ferejohn in chapter 9 describes the interesting legislative history of the food stamp program to illustrate one important process of coalition building, the legislative logroll. Within this the party leadership in Congress must operate.

The nine chapters in the first four sections describe a good deal about Congress, and particularly about the difficult process of making and sustaining new directions in public policy. Finally, in chapter 10 Leroy Rieselbach synthesizes the elements of the various essays into an overall statement of what we know about the processes of policy change in Congress. He also offers some useful guideposts on where we go from here in future research.


Table of Contents
Part I. A Theory of Congressional Change 1. A Theory of Congressional Cycles: Solving the Puzzle of Change (Lawrence C. Dodd) Part II.

Part I. A Theory of Congressional Change
1. A Theory of Congressional Cycles: Solving the Puzzle of Change (Lawrence C. Dodd)

Part II. The Electoral Sources of Policy Change in Congress
2. Electoral Realignments in the U.S. House of Representatives (David W. Brady, Rice University)
3. The Politics and Policy of Race in Congress (Edward G. Carmines, Indiana University, and James A. Stimson, University of Houston)
4. Elections and the Potential for Policy Change in Congress: The House of Representatives (Gerald C. Wright, Jr.)

Part III. From Electioneering to Policy Making: Learning and Adjustment
5. Adjusting to the U.S. Senate (Richard F. Fenno, Jr., University of Rochester)
6. Campaign Learning, Congressional Behavior, and Policy Change (Marjorie Randon Hershey, Indiana University)

Part IV. Leadership, Rules, and the Congressional Policy Process
7. Party Leadership and Policy Change (Barbara Sinclair, University of California, Riverside)
8. Blocking Coalitions and Policy Change (Roberta Hertzberg, Indiana University)
9. Logrolling in an Institutional Context: A Case Study of Food Stamp Legislation (John Ferejohn, Stanford University)

Part V. Pulling the Pieces Together
10. Congress and Policy Change: Issues, Answers, and Prospects (Leroy N. Rieselbach)

Author Index


More . . .
A Theory of Congressional Cycles: Solving the Puzzle of Change,
Lawrence C. Dodd

Events of the 1970s caught students of Congress by surprise. Postwar scholars had concluded that the modern Congress was a stagnant and impotent institution, incapable of rapid change or rejuvenation (Burns, 1963; Huntington, 1965).Yet in the 1970sit suddenly experienced precisely those reforms-the weakening of seniority and the Senate filibuster, the creation of a...
A Theory of Congressional Cycles: Solving the Puzzle of Change,
Lawrence C. Dodd

Events of the 1970s caught students of Congress by surprise. Postwar scholars had concluded that the modern Congress was a stagnant and impotent institution, incapable of rapid change or rejuvenation (Burns, 1963; Huntington, 1965).Yet in the 1970sit suddenly experienced precisely those reforms-the weakening of seniority and the Senate filibuster, the creation of a centralized budget process, the strengthening of the congressional parties-that had previously seemed impossible. These reforms, in turn, produced a dramatic resurgence in the policy activism of Congress (Sundquist, 1981).

This unexpected revitalization of Congress has presented scholars with an intriguing puzzle-the puzzle of change. Scholars can no longer hope to understand Congress fully until they can explain the processes that generate institutional change (Cooper and Brady, Huntington, 1971; Polsby, 1975).To understand these processes, to solve the puzzle of change, scholars must construct a theory of Congress that is dynamic in character, plausible, well-grounded in existing knowledge about Congress, and susceptible to empirical test.

This chapter seeks to construct such a theory. It does by building on empirical discoveries of the 1970s and early During this period legislative scholars sought to explain the recent congressional reforms by identifying the historical forces that gave rise to them (Cooper, 1971, 1975; Dodd, 1977, 1981; Huntington, 1981; Strom and Rundquist, 1978; Sundquist, 1981). Scholars found that the upheavals of the 1970s were not a unique occurrence to be explained by special historical circumstance. They were the product of broad and recurring cycles of change that had characterized Congress throughout its existence.  

Reviews
Very useful... | More »
Extremely valuable... | More »

Pages 308
Year: 1986
LC Classification: JK1061.C5857
Dewey code: 328,73
BISAC: POL006000
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-077-0
Price: USD 26.00
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-076-3
Price: USD 48.00
Ebook
ISBN: 978-0-87586-269-9
Price: USD 48.00
Available from

Search the full text of this book
Related Books
• Constitution Making —   Conflict and Consensus in the Federal Convention of 1787
• Electoral Laws & Their Political Consequences —    (Vol. 1 in the Agathon series on representation)
• Lawmaking by Initiative: Issues, Options and Comparisons —   (Vol. 4 in the Agathon series on representation)