Congress Project | Wilson Center

Congress Project

The Evolving U.S. Congress: From 'Culture of Legislating' to 'Culture of Campaigning'

In this edition of Wilson Center NOW, we speak with Congressional Fellow Donald Wolfensberger about his latest book, “Changing Cultures in Congress: From Fair Play to Power Plays.” He explains the institutional dynamics behind the House of Representative’s transformation from an institution primarily focused on legislation and governance to one plagued by a culture of perpetual campaigning. He also offers thoughts on how the culture can change again and

Is Negotiating Political Agreement a Lost Art?

Voters often complain that members of Congress “can’t seem to agree on anything.” You know people are on to something when their own representatives in Washington echo the same complaint — one of the few bipartisan sounds emanating from the capital, if not in perfect harmony.

Congress’ Budgeting Would Baffle a Martian

If a martian landed here today with the mission to bring back information on how Congress makes budgets, he might report back there is no sign of intelligent life in Washington — at least when it comes to budgeting. On the other hand, he might conclude the opposite: The budget process is so convoluted and complex that officials have obviously encrypted the whole thing so no other country or planet can crack the code as to how U.S. budgets are really made.

Can Senate De-Escalate Partisan Nuke Warfare?

In my previous column (“McConnell’s Lament Stirs Fresh Breeze of Hope,” Jan. 29) I called attention to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Jan. 8 floor remarks in which he conceded that both parties are to blame for today’s hyper-partisanship and vowed to restore the committee system, Senate floor debates and a full week’s work if Republicans regain control of the chamber. McConnell said this will not require a change in Senate rules, but rather a change in behavior that will not happen overnight.

McConnell’s Lament Stirs Fresh Breeze of Hope

It is not unusual for sitting members of Congress to twitch and moan that the other party is destroying the institution. The majority party lambastes the minority for obstructing the important business of the country and the minority counter-bastes the majority for excluding it from making those important decisions.

Czar Speaker Is Vindicated on Overthrow Ruling

In my Dec. 18 column, “Senate Leader Reid’s Rule Recalls House Czars”, I recounted how a group of progressive Republicans and Democrats removed Speaker Joe Cannon, R-Ill., as chairman and a member of the Rules Committee in 1910 by claiming a constitutional privilege to change House rules from the floor. When Cannon ruled the motion was not privileged under the Constitution, his decision was appealed and overturned.

Senate Leader Reid’s Rule Recalls House Czar Speaker Reed

The joke used to be that the House of Representatives has dozens of rules while the Senate has just two: unanimous consent and exhaustion.

However, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the trigger on the “nuclear option” on Nov. 21 to effect a change in the filibuster rule for most nominations, it can now be said that the Senate has three rules: unanimous consent, exhaustion and Reid’s rule. The latter can be defined as any procedural edict the majority leader wishes to impose on the Senate so long as he has the backing of just 50 members.

Ideology Isn’t Source of All Partisanship

Why do political parties in Congress sometimes fight, even when they agree? Is it like siblings who seem to quarrel over nothing — just the nature of the beast?

Are Committed Ideologues Making Governing Impossible?

In my previous column, “Ideology Isn’t Source of All Partisanship” (Nov. 6), I used partisan votes on special rules in the House as an example of high partisanship unconnected to ideological issues — noting that 17 percent of all House party unity votes in the last Congress were on the previous question and final adoption of rules alone.

The procedural fights that the public perceives as petty partisan bickering are as much a part of a party’s purpose as advancing ideological policy choices. They are used to enhance party self-branding and team-building efforts.

Don’t Dismiss Bicameral Working Group Out of Hand

Procedural Politics
Roll Call
Oct. 9, 2013

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, surprised even his own party caucus colleagues Tuesday by introducing a bill to create a Bicameral Working Group on Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth, then calling it up in his committee an hour later.