Political Science, Congress, Intraparty, and Party
The purpose of this dissertation is to supply a simple and synthetic theory to help us to understand the development and value of organized intraparty blocs. I will argue that lawmakers rely on these intraparty organizations to resolve several serious collective action and coordination problems that otherwise make it difficult for rank-and-file party members to successfully challenge their congressional leaders for control of policy outcomes. In the empirical chapters of this dissertation, I will show that intraparty organizations empower dissident lawmakers to resolve their collective action and coordination challenges by providing selective incentives to cooperative members, transforming public good policies into excludable accomplishments, and instituting rules and procedures to promote group decision-making. And, in tracing the development of intraparty organization through several well-known examples of party infighting, I will demonstrate that intraparty organizations have played pivotal -- yet largely unrecognized -- roles in critical legislative battles, including turn-of-the-century economic struggles, mid-century battles over civil rights legislation, and contemporary debates over national health care policy.
Political Science, Congress, investigations, and oversight
Academic studies have often emphasized the law-making aspects of Congress to the exclusion of examining how Congress uses its investigative power. This is despite the fact that Congress possesses great power to compel testimony and documents from public and private persons alike, and that exercises of the investigative power are among the most notable public images of Congress. While several recent studies have considered investigations in the context of relations between the executive and legislative branches, far less effort has been committed to looking at how much Congress uses coercive investigative power to gather information on non-governmental actors.I develop several new datasets to examine the historical and recent use of investigations of both governmental and non-governmental institutions. A major component of this work is a comprehensive study of all authorizations of subpoena power granted to committees over the period 1792-1944. I find that for both Executive and outside subjects, divided control of government was positively associated with the volume of investigations in the House, but not in the Senate. Through extended qualitative examination of contemporary news stories and other secondary sources, I consider how partisan and institutional factors influenced the focus, scope, and intensity of investigative projects, as well as which legislative chamber and committee came to undertake the information-gathering work. I demonstrate how stronger party leaderships limited opportunities for members to conduct investigations, and where necessary, shifted politically-sensitive subjects to venues--within the chamber, to the other chamber, or to joint committees--that would be more favorable to the desired results. Nevertheless, it was in the Senate that individual members consistently possessed greater opportunity to initiate inquiries to develop policy expertise as well as those that could be dangerous to their own party's interests. Confronting changes to how Congress has made such grants since World War II, I examine the exercise of investigative power in its capacity to generate media coverage and witnesses' invocations of the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Whereas the House and Senate experienced an extended period of near-parity in the quantity of investigations until the mid-1990s, since that time the Senate has been the more involved and consistent actor. The number of different investigative topics receiving media attention has also declined since the early 1990s. Increasingly, Congress's investigative initiative focuses on a small set of subjects, which often receive simultaneous scrutiny from a number of different corners. To help motivate the evolution of Congressional investigations, I consider the Legislative branch's relations with the Executive and Judicial branches, as well as concerted attempts by the Legislature to build institutional capacity. I argue that the growth of the State and increased complexity of society have complicated Congress's investigative task, requiring it to seek new methods and driving it towards greater reliance on the other two branches, particularly the Judiciary. Ultimately, Congress's ability to summarily detain contumacious witnesses and police member qualifications and chamber legitimacy--the original means and ends of its powers as upheld in the 19th Century--are the weakest and most disused elements of its investigative repertoire. The work closes with a discussion of the possibilities for policy-making through investigations, and some ideas for encouraging greater member use of Congress's investigative power.
Political Science, Public Policy and Social Welfare, appropriations, Congress, omnibus, and political party
Theories of party power in Congress differ on the circumstances under which majority parties have the ability to shift policy outcomes away from the preferences of pivotal voters and toward the majority's preferred position. The theory of Pivotal Politics states that it is unlikely parties have such power. The theory of Conditional Party Government states that parties can influence policy outcomes when they are ideologically unified, while the Cartel theory suggests that parties can influence outcomes all of the time by controlling the agenda. In this dissertation, I propose and test three hypotheses addressing the extent of party power using an original dataset of the legislative history of federal appropriations bills and case studies of two time periods in Congress. Appropriations bills are an effective way to study trends in Congress because they must be passed every year. In the last three decades, Congress has shifted from its traditional method of passing the 13 bills that fund the federal government individually to packaging them together in massive "omnibus" bills. I show that the decision of party leaders to create omnibus bills is a form of agenda control that allows party leaders to meet a variety of goals ranging from protecting the majority party's reputation to adopting partisan policy. Omnibus bills help party leaders meet their goals because they are multidimensional, "must pass" bills that members are reluctant to oppose. They are particularly useful in the Senate, where they provide an effective counter to the ever present threat of a filibuster. I make three major arguments. First, I contend that the ability of a majority party to control the agenda with omnibus spending bills is independent of its degree of ideological diversity. In the last 30 years, omnibus bills have been used both when the majority party is ideologically diverse and when it is unified. Second, I contend that the likelihood a majority party will seek to control the agenda with omnibus bills depends on the ideological distance from the majority's median voter to other pivotal voters on the floor. These distances have varied over time with the ideological diversity and margin of control of the majority party. Large ideological gaps between pivotal voters are an indication that the floor is a challenging arena for the majority party and create an incentive to control the agenda. Third, I contend that the policy consequences of omnibus bills vary with the majority party's ideological diversity. Diverse parties are likely to use omnibus bills to "keep the trains running" by passing the budget, while unified parties are likely to use omnibus bills to pursue partisan policy goals. My findings expand our understanding of the motivations of members of Congress. Theories of Congress rooted in the reelection motive state that individual behavior, and by extension, the behavior of parties, is motivated primarily by the desire to improve prospects for reelection. Evidence from the history of appropriations bills over the last 30 years suggests that ideologically unified parties will use omnibus bills to pursue policy goals even if those goals create some additional risk of not being reelected.
Political science, Committees, Congress, District Courts, judicial pork, Judiciary, and pork barrel
How does Congress structure the Judiciary, specifically the organization of the lower District Courts? Since 1789, Congress has allocated at least 84 judicial districts, 686 judicial seats, 533 judicial meeting places, and 604 judicial courthouses to the lower courts. While previous scholarship has examined instances when District Court seats are created, we still know very little about the structuring of the District Courts by Congress. By combining insights from both the judicial politics and distributive politics literatures, I argue that Congress allocates districts, seats, meeting places, and courthouses as a means of providing pork to members’ states. I develop a theory of the allocation of judicial pork where I argue that Congress allocates judicial institutions similarly to traditional pork, like bridges and highways. Specifically, I contend that states with representation on the Judiciary Committees in the Senate and House of Representatives are more likely to be allocated judicial pork than states without such representation. Using newly collected data gathered from the Federal Judiciary Center, I test my theory using observational data from 1813 to 2014 and four case studies. In line with my expectations, I find evidence that suggests rank-and-file representation on the Senate and House Judiciary Committees positively effects the allocation of judicial pork.
This dissertation reintegrates abolitionism into the main currents of U.S. political history. Because of a bifurcation between studies of the American antislavery movement and political histories of the sectional conflict, modern scholars have drastically underestimated the significance of abolitionist political activism. Historians often characterize political abolitionists as naïve idealists or separatist moral purists, but I recast them as practical, effective politicians, who capitalized on rare openings in American political institutions to achieve outsized influence in the face of a robust two-party system. Third-party abolitionists shaped national debate far beyond their numbers and played central roles in the emergence of the Republican Party. Over the second half of the 1830s, political abolitionists devised the Slave Power concept, claiming that slaveholder control of the federal government endangered American democracy; this would later become the Republicans' most important appeal. Integrating this argument with an institutional analysis of the Second Party System, antislavery activists assailed the Whigs and Democrats--cross-sectional parties that incorporated antislavery voices while supporting proslavery policies--as beholden to the Slave Power. This analysis thus provided the rationale for creation of the abolitionist Liberty Party and then became its chief rhetorical tool.Liberty partisans cast all elections as contests against the Slave Power and repeatedly forced slavery into political debate by controlling balances of power in many northern locales. Meanwhile, they developed a sophisticated lobbying strategy to exploit Congress as a public forum that could be made to magnify and widely disseminate the Slave Power argument. As northern Whigs and Democrats faced new antislavery electoral pressures and chafed under the Slave Power's increasing exactions, Liberty leaders redoubled their efforts to pry antislavery dissidents from the major parties. In the process Liberty men paved the way for a broader anti-Slave Power coalition and helped found the Free Soil Party in 1848. A small but dedicated Free Soil congressional bloc then built on Liberty tactics to further harness congressional debate as a platform for dramatizing the Slave Power's control of national policymaking. When the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act roused northern voters and deranged once-stable party allegiances, Free Soil leaders in and out of Congress seized on the opportunity to spearhead a party uniting all opponents of the Slave Power. In helping propel this new Republican Party to northern preeminence by 1856, erstwhile Liberty men and Free Soilers finally foresaw the end of the Slave Power's national supremacy, and, ultimately, of slavery itself.
Political Science, General, American politics, Congress, and Senate
For the past few decades the spatial model of legislative behavior has been the main conceptual frame for understanding legislative outcomes. That model emphasizes legislators as free-floating and independent ideal points in policy space. What is missing from spatial theory is the essential social nature of legislative life. As Richard Fenno, Nelson Polsby, John Kingdon, Charles Jones and other congressional scholars of their generation taught us, the interactions that occur between and among lawmakers are important and have an independent effect on outcomes. This study explores the interactions and collaborations senators have with one another and the role they play in contemporary Senate lawmaking. Through qualitative interviews and statistical analysis, I show how social dynamics at play in the Senate can inform our view of who wins and who loses in the legislative process.