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Representation and Governance: The Great Legislative Tradeoff

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Shepsle, Kenneth A.
Conference: Constitutional Bicentennial Conference
Location: Hanover, NH
Conf. Date: May 5, 1987
Date: 1987
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/5472
Sector: Social Organization
Subject(s): U.S. Congress
Abstract: "What is it that makes the U.S. Congress unique and distinctive among the world's legislatures? What, in other words, has prevented our national legislature from being dominated or swallowed up by the executive as so often has happened elsewhere? The answer I provide gives prominence to the division- and specialization-of-labor of the congressional committee system. Strong committees with proprietary rights to policy jurisdictions; a membership which can pursue political careers inside the legislature relatively independent of the whims or wishes of others (for example, Speakers or Presidents); and a committee system that embodies the functional differentiation of legislative activity (authorization, appropriation, revenue-raising, budgeting, and procedural matters) all serve to insulate the legislature from political predators in general, and the executive branch in particular. A stunning by-product of these arrangements is that the legislature is able to attract and retain competent, ambitious politicians to pursue political careers there. The second part of this paper examines the spate of reforms in the House of the 1970s — what I term a 'representational revolt.' I am specifically interested in the degree to which these reforms have altered the operation of the committee system and the political incentives which that system provides. I suggest that reforms which seek to enhance the legislature's representative character (as I believe is true of many recent reforms) risk attenuating the division-of-labor that has served the legislature so well during this century. In short, in thinking about reform I suggest there is a 'great legislative tradeoff' — between representativeness and the maintenance of an independent capacity to contribute to governing."

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