Will some form of direct democracy supplant representative, deliberative government in the twenty-first century United States? That question is at the heart of Donald R. Wolfensberger’s history of Congress and congressional reform, which runs back to the Constitution’s creation of a popularly elected House of Representatives and forward to the surreal ending of the 105th Congress, featuring barrels of pork, resignation of the speaker, and impeachment of the president.

The author’s expertise comes from twenty-eight years as a staff member in the House, culminating in service as chief of staff of the powerful House Rules Committee. He was a top parliamentary expert and a principal Republican procedural strategist. Sensitive to the power of process, Wolfensberger is an authoritative guide to reform efforts of earlier eras. And as a participant in reforms since the 1960s, he offers a unique perspective on forging the “1970s sunshine coalition,” televising House proceedings, debating term limits, and coping with democracy in an electronic age.

Donald R. Wolfensberger served as a staff member in Congress from 1969 to 1997, working for such House members as John B. Anderson, Trent Lott, and Lynn Martin. He is currently the director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center.



1. Making a Constitution

2. The Bill of Rights: Madison Gets Religion

3. The Right to Petition: The Long Drive

4. Congress and the Progressive Era

5. The Initiative and Referendum Movement

6. National Referendum Proposals and the Isolationist Impulse

7. The Dawning of the Sunshine Seventies

8. A Window on Congress: Televising Floor Debates

9. The Revival of Direct Democracy Proposals

10. The Road to the Republican Revoluation

11. The Road to Governance: Revolution, Reform, and Reality

12. Coming Full Circle: The Complete Revolution?

13. Term Limits and the Scarlet Letter

14. The Electronic Congress

15. The Curtain Falls Twice on the House

16. The Future of Deliberative Democracy

Appendix A: Voter Turnout in States with and without Statutory Initiatives and/or Referendums, 1992 and 1996 General Elections
Appendix B: House Legislative Data for 103d–105th Congresses


“An interesting volume on Congress and its democratic relationships with the people.”—Choice

“The author, a long-time Republican staff member in the U.S. Congress who played a key role in the events leading up to and following the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994, eschews the traditional memoir in favor of a more ambitious approach. Certainly, Wolfensberger relies on stories from his tenure in the House, but he also plays the role of historian and political scientist.”—Neil Berch, Controversia

“This book contains the best and finest understanding of Congressional behavior I know and makes anew—and in the context of current political issues and means of communication—our founders’ case for deliberative, representative democracy.”—Anthony C. Beilenson, former U.S. Representative from California

“Anyone who reads this study will recognize immediately that the scholarship that went into it is superior.… With the twenty-first century just around the corner, it is especially timely given its assessment of the tension between our republican form of government and ‘virtual democracy.’”—Walter Oleszek, American University