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For many, Congress is an institution consumed by partisan bickering and gridlock. Yet the institution’s long history of addressing significant societal problems – even in recent years – seems to contradict this view. Congress and the Politics of Problem Solving shows how a simple premise – voters are willing to hold lawmakers accountable for their collective problem-solving abilities – can produce novel insights into legislative organization, behavior, and output.
How do issues end up on the agenda? Why do lawmakers routinely invest in program oversight and broad policy development? What considerations drive legislative policy change?
Knowing that their prospects for reelection are partly dependent on their collective problem-solving abilities, lawmakers support structures that enhance the legislature’s capacity to address problems in society and encourage members to contribute to nonparticularistic policy-making activities.
The resulting insights are innovative and substantial: incumbents of both parties have electoral incentives to be concerned about Congress’s collective performance; the legislative issue agenda can often be predicted years in advance; nearly all important successful legislation originates in committee; many laws pass with bipartisan support; and electoral replacement, partisan or otherwise, is not the most robust predictor of when policy changes are enacted.
The electoral imperative to address problems in society offers a compelling explanation for these findings and provides an important new perspective on the dynamics of lawmaking in legislatures.
Congress and the Politics of Problem Solving is published by Cambridge University Press