Committee Chairs in Congress

Longtime readers of CoOp know that I think one of the reasons why Congress functions so poorly these days is that too much power is centralized in the party leadership on both sides.  The discussion over the next Supreme Court nominee is a good example.

In the past, it would have been unthinkable for a Senate Majority Leader to instruct a Judiciary Committee Chair not to hold a hearing on a nominee.  The Chair would have told the Majority Leader to take a hike and insisted on his prerogative to hold hearings when and if he felt like it.  In this case, though, Senator Grassley rolled over like a cocker spaniel when Senator McConnell announced (probably without consulting him) that no hearing would be held.  The White House might nominate an Iowan for the Court as a way of putting pressure on Grassley, but I’m not sure that will work.

While committee chairs of the past were sometimes formidable obstacles to legislation that most of Congress wanted, the decentralized structure that was in place for much of our history was probably better because it created many more negotiating partners and opportunities for compromise.  But how do the chairs claw back their power?


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1 Response

  1. Mike Stern says:

    On the general issue of the power of committee chairs versus the leadership, I tend to agree with you and here ( is an idea worth considering to fix it.

    I am not sure, though, the example you cite is illustrative of the problem. On an issue of this national prominence I would imagine the Senate Republicans believe that they need a unified position in order to avoid being rolled by the administration. How exactly they figured out what that position should be (perhaps it was driven by the presidential candidates) I don’t know, but I am not sure it reflects how much “power” McConnell has. For example, if McConnell had announced a different position, do you think Ted Cruz would have hesitated to denounce him?