Disjointed Pluralism

Disjointed Pluralism: Institutional Innovation and the Development of the U.S. Congress

Eric Schickler
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    Disjointed Pluralism
    Book Description:

    From the 1910 overthrow of "Czar" Joseph Cannon to the reforms enacted when Republicans took over the House in 1995, institutional change within the U.S. Congress has been both a product and a shaper of congressional politics. For several decades, scholars have explained this process in terms of a particular collective interest shared by members, be it partisanship, reelection worries, or policy motivations. Eric Schickler makes the case that it is actually interplay among multiple interests that determines institutional change. In the process, he explains how congressional institutions have proved remarkably adaptable and yet consistently frustrating for members and outside observers alike.

    Analyzing leadership, committee, and procedural restructuring in four periods (1890-1910, 1919-1932, 1937-1952, and 1970-1989), Schickler argues that coalitions promoting a wide range of member interests drive change in both the House and Senate. He shows that multiple interests determine institutional innovation within a period; that different interests are important in different periods; and, more broadly, that changes in the salient collective interests across time do not follow a simple logical or developmental sequence. Institutional development appears disjointed, as new arrangements are layered on preexisting structures intended to serve competing interests. An epilogue assesses the rise and fall of Newt Gingrich in light of these findings.

    Schickler's model of "disjointed pluralism" integrates rational choice theory with historical institutionalist approaches. It both complicates and advances efforts at theoretical synthesis by proposing a fuller, more nuanced understanding of institutional innovation--and thus of American political development and history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2425-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Disjointed Pluralism and Institutional Change
    (pp. 3-26)

    Whatever else a national legislature may be, it is a complex of rules, procedures, and specialized internal institutions, such as committees and leadership instruments. Particular configurations of these rules, procedures, committees, and leadership instruments may serve the interests of individual members, parties, pressure groups, sectors of society, or the legislature as a whole. As a result, as any legislature evolves through time, little is more fundamental to its politics than recurrent, often intense, efforts tochangeits institutions. Congressional politics has depended crucially on such innovations as the “Reed rules” of 1890, the Senate cloture rule adopted in 1917, the...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Institutional Development, 1890–1910: An Experiment in Party Government
    (pp. 27-84)

    Scholars have repeatedly described 1890–1910 as the high-water mark for party government in the United States (Brady and Althoff 1974; Mayhew 1974, 175; Rohde 1991, 4–5). Unusually strong party cohesion, particularly among Republicans, coincided with intense interparty conflict for most of these two decades. Political commentators of that time could credibly speculate that congressional politics would become more and more like the strong party regimes of England and other parliamentary systems (Follett 1896).

    The two parties were evenly matched as the 51st Congress convened in December 1889, with neither enjoying a clear hold on the allegiances of most...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Institutional Development, 1919–1932: Cross-Party Coalitions, Bloc Government, and Republican Rule
    (pp. 85-135)

    The insurgent Republican rebellion of 1910 presaged some of the difficulties that GOP leaders would face in the 1919–32 period. In 1919, Republicans regained control of both houses of Congress for the first time since the revolt against Cannon but still faced a substantial faction of midwestern and western progressives who disagreed with important elements of the party’s agenda. Prior to the 1920 election, the common goal of defeating Woodrow Wilson and his League of Nations united the Republicans. But soon after Warren Harding became president in 1921, sectoral and ideological fissures began to test GOP unity.

    The tension...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Institutional Development, 1937–1952: The Conservative Coalition, Congress against the Executive, and Committee Government
    (pp. 136-188)

    The difficulties confronting Democratic leaders in 1937–52 easily surpassed Republicans’ earlier troubles with progressive insurgency. In January 1937, the liberal coalition led by Franklin Roosevelt, fresh from a sweeping election victory, appeared in firm control of the Congress and the country. Yet by the end of the year, the Democrats were in disarray and conservatism was on the rise in Congress and nationally. This dramatic turnabout began with Roosevelt’s ill-advised court-packing plan but had roots in broader trends: rising labor militancy, southern trepidation about African-Americans’ entry into the Democratic coalition, and a severe recession each challenged Democratic unity (Patterson...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Institutional Development, 1970–1989: A Return to Party Government or the Triumph of Individualism?
    (pp. 189-248)

    The 1970–89 period began with the conservative coalition still a potent force in congressional politics. Nixon’s recent election had generated considerable speculation that conservative Democrats and their Republican allies would speedily recover from the policy setbacks they had suffered at the hands of Lyndon Johnson in the mid-1960s. Even more ominous for liberals, majority party Democrats suffered from weak and aging leadership. John McCormack (D-Mass.), who served as Speaker until January 1971, was widely criticized for haphazard scheduling and poor strategic planning (Bibby and Davidson 1972). McCormack and his leadership team also supported the Vietnam War, estranging them from...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Understanding Congressional Change
    (pp. 249-269)

    The preceding four chapters demonstrate that disjointed pluralism has characterized congressional development. In this concluding chapter, I sum up the major patterns that emerge over time and consider the evidence concerning the four claims outlined in chapter 1. I then assess how well alternative theories fare in grappling with this evidence and discuss the relationship of these theories to disjointed pluralism. I conclude with thoughts on the broader implications of disjointed pluralism for political institutions.

    The evidence from each period provides strong support for the claim that multiple collective interests shape institutional change. In all but six of the forty-two...

  12. EPILOGUE. Institutional Change in the 1990s
    (pp. 270-276)

    No account of congressional institutions would be complete without addressing the major changes wrought by the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995. This epilogue briefly discusses the Democratic difficulties preceding the 1994 elections and the implications of the resulting Republican “revolution.”¹

    When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, Democrats had good reason for optimism: for the first time in twelve years, the party controlled both the White House and Congress. Furthermore, congressional Democrats had built a party leadership apparatus in the intervening years that appeared capable of shepherding through a major presidential program. However, the 103rd Congress produced a much...

  13. APPENDIX A. Case Selection
    (pp. 277-280)
  14. APPENDIX B. Votes Pertaining to Institutional Changes in Each Period
    (pp. 281-294)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 295-328)
  16. References
    (pp. 329-348)
  17. Index
    (pp. 349-356)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 357-360)