“Party Power and Lawmaking: Majority Party Capacity in an Era of Strong Parties,” Frances Lee, University of Maryland
AMERICAN POLITICS & PUBLIC POLICY WORKSHOP
Abstract: Party cohesion in Congress stands at historic highs, and legislative power has been centralized in the hands of majority party leaders. We ask: what are the consequences of these changes for lawmaking? Are majority parties more effective at achieving their programmatic goals? Examining patterns in party support for enacted laws, we find no trend toward the passage of more legislation on party lines. Most laws, including landmark enactments, continue to garner substantial bipartisan support, and laws are not more frequently enacted over the opposition of a majority of the minority party. Contemporary congressional majorities fail in enacting their agenda items at rates that are equivalent to (or inferior to) benchmarks set by less party-polarized congresses. Likewise, there is little evidence that centralization of power and the departure from “regular order” legislative processes has empowered majority parties to achieve programmatic goals. Laws that are passed via more unorthodox and leadership-led legislative processes do not receive less bipartisan support than those passed under regular order processes. Despite marked increases in party cohesion, today’s majority parties do not appear to have gotten better at enacting their legislative programs.
Frances E. Lee is professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland and co-editor of Legislative Studies Quarterly. She is author of Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign (University of Chicago Press, 2016), Beyond Ideology: Politics, Principles, and Partisanship in the U.S. Senate (University of Chicago Press, 2009) and coauthor of Sizing Up The Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation (University of Chicago Press, 1999). She is also coauthor of Congress and Its Members, currently in its 16th edition (Sage / CQ Press, 2018). Her research has appeared in numerous journal outlets, including the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, and others.
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