Information Control: Leadership Power in the U.S. House of Representatives
Curry, James Michael
Lee, Frances E
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Most congressional scholarship argues that legislative leaders--majority party leaders and committee chairs--are strongly constrained, weak agents of their rank-and-file. This study argues that information, and leaders' ability to control it, is a significant and independent source of power for leaders in the House of Representatives. Most rank-and-file members of Congress lack the time and resources necessary to track, study, or become deeply involved in legislating on most bills considered by the House. As a result, they rely on sources that can synthesize the information they need to decide whether or not to support the bill, offer an amendment, or take other actions. The party leadership and committee chairs, because of their staff and resource advantages, are important sources of information for the rank-and-file. However, legislative leaders often exploit their informational advantages to help their preferred legislation gain easy passage through the chamber. Along with the ability to perpetually collect information on rank-and-file preferences, and provide leadership-approved information about legislation, legislative leaders also have an arsenal of tools to limit the availability of information including withholding legislative language, scheduling votes on short notice, and using large and complex legislation as a vehicle. This information control puts leaders in the driver's seat, allowing them to lead the chamber by shaping the information driving the debate on a bill. Thirty interviews with members of Congress and congressional staff, along with a unique dataset of important legislation considered by the House of Representatives are used to support this theory. Leaders are found to employ information control tactics strategically, to aid the passage of their priority legislation and in response to the potential for significant influence from outside groups. The study, overall, suggests that legislative leaders in the House are more influential than they are typically perceived to be and that participation in congressional policymaking is often restricted.