Congress at work: Legislative capacity and entrepreneurship in the contemporary congress

James M. Curry, Frances E. Lee

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


Scholars and observers worry that Congress has lost its capacity to perform its functions in the American political system. Drawing on an array of data on Congress’s activities and processes along with in-depth interviews with long-serving lawmakers and high-level staffers, we take stock of how changes to internal processes have affected Congress’s institutional capacities. In doing so, we make two interrelated arguments. First, we argue that Congress can take transformative action whether the legislative process is centralized and leadership-led or whether it is decentralized and committee-led. Second, we argue that Congress is better able than in previous eras to engage in conflict-clarifying representation in order to express and educate the public on the positions of the parties. We conclude that changes to congressional processes in recent years should be viewed as adaptations to the challenges of contemporary lawmaking. These adaptations help preserve Congress’s institutional capacity, but they have undoubtedly had negative consequences for open deliberation and individual member input into legislation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCan America Govern Itself?
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages39
ISBN (Electronic)9781108667357
StatePublished - May 25 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


  • Bipartisanship
  • Centralization
  • Congress
  • Legislation
  • Unorthodox lawmaking


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