The public, journalists, and legislators themselves have often lamented a decline in congressional lawmaking in recent years, often blaming party politics for the lack of legislative output. In Committees and the Decline of Lawmaking in Congress, Jonathan Lewallen examines the decline in lawmaking from a new, committee-centered perspective. Lewallen tests his theory against other explanations such as partisanship and an increased demand for oversight with multiple empirical tests and traces shifts in policy activity by policy area using the Policy Agendas Project coding scheme.
He finds that because party leaders have more control over the legislative agenda, committees have spent more of their time conducting oversight instead. Partisanship alone does not explain this trend; changes in institutional rules and practices that empowered party leaders have created more uncertainty for committees and contributed to a shift in their policy activities. The shift toward oversight at the committee level combined with party leader control over the voting agenda means that many members of Congress are effectively cut out of many of the institution's policy decisions. At a time when many, including Congress itself, are considering changes to modernize the institution and keep up with a stronger executive branch, the findings here suggest that strengthening Congress will require more than running different candidates or providing additional resources.
Fig. 5.3. Number of Days Spent under Stopgap Budgeting, 1979–2012. (Source: Congressional Research Service 2016, calculated by the author. The number of days spent under a CR in a given congress is calculated based on the fiscal year, and so it may be greater than the number of days in two calendar years [each two-year congress includes all or part of three fiscal years].)