Richard Fenno’s Theory of Congressional Committees and the Partisan Polarization of the House

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Richard Fenno’s Theory of Congressional Committees

and the Partisan Polarization of the House
John H. Aldrich, Brittany N. Perry, and David W. Rohde

Duke University

The committee system is one of the two major organizing structures in both houses of Congress. About 40 years ago, Richard Fenno presented, in Congressmen in Committees, a theoretical overview and empirical analysis of committees in the House and Senate. In this chapter we seek to show how Fenno’s theoretical concepts are still relevant to understanding the House and its committees, while also demonstrating that empirical patterns have vastly changed. Our specific focus will be the three House committees that have been widely regarded as the most powerful and prestigious throughout this period: Appropriations, Rules, and Ways and Means.
From Committee Independence to Partisan Dominance

Although scholarship on the committee system in Congress can be traced back as far as 1885, with Woodrow Wilson’s Congressional Government, the first systematic analyses of committees dates back to the 1960s, and most notably to the work of Richard Fenno. Conducting his research during a period of relatively low levels of partisan polarization, Fenno developed a theory characterizing the committee system as an institution designed to meet the individual goals of members of Congress. In Congressmen in Committees, Fenno argued that members seek to achieve one or more of three goals: reelection, power within the chamber and good public policy, and it was within the standing committees that they were able to pursue these goals.1

Under Fenno’s theory, although members were seen as individualistic, goal-oriented actors, they also served as agents for clusters of interested outsiders in the committee’s “environment.” Depending on a committee’s jurisdiction, these outsiders may have included clientele groups, the executive branch or the political parties. Combined with individual member goals, the influence of these groups worked to shape a shared set of strategic premises among committee members. It was these strategic premises that then served to influence committee activity and the content of committee reported legislation.

By analyzing the strategic premises within different committees, Fenno was able to characterize a committee’s level of decision-making autonomy, or the degree to which outside groups had an impact on decision-making processes (i.e. the committee’s “permeability”). Overall, he found that committees with the strongest consensus on strategic premises were the least permeable and thus the most autonomous in their operations. At the time, some of the most autonomous were also the most prestigious committees, including both Appropriations and Ways and Means.

While many external constraints varied by committee, Fenno noted that there were factors that affected the strategic calculations of members on all committees. One such constraint of particular importance was the seniority norm. Prior to 1910, the Speaker of the House had the right to appoint committee members and chairs and he chaired the Rules Committee, which set the terms of debate for bills on the House floor. However, following the revolt against Speaker Cannon in 1910, these powers of the Speaker were removed. After this, each party developed its own procedures for designing the committees and committee chairs began to be selected based on the committee service, not party loyalty. Up through the 1960s, it was the principally chairmen, not the party leadership, who shaped committee agendas, appointed subcommittees and decided when hearings would be held and how bills would be handled. With partisan conflict remaining relatively low throughout this time, the seniority norm continued to be accepted and served to shape the structure of all committees in a way that insulated them from the influence of the party. This independence was reinforced by a “property right” norm, under which members expected to be able to retain assignment to a committee once it was granted to them. Overall, low levels of partisan polarization meant that consensus among members of all committees was more common. In line with Fenno’s theory, this internal consensus allowed all committees to be more independent in their decision-making.

Interestingly, at the time Congressmen in Committees was released, significant changes had started to occur in Congress that began to alter the institutional role of committees. Since the 1930s, the Democrats were usually in the majority in Congress and because they were more likely to accumulate seniority, Southern Democrats gradually began to dominate committee chairmanships. Over time, these more conservative southerners began to align with Republicans to block northern Democratic policy proposals. Consensus among members of the Democratic Party on committees began to break down, which undermined support for committees’ institutional independence. Beginning in 1961, northern members of the Democratic caucus worked to dilute the power of the conservative committee chairs. They began by expanding the size of the Rules Committee in order to reduce southern dominance of the committee (which we discuss in more detail below). Then they instituted a series of additional changes under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 to shift power away from committees and into the hands of the majority on the House floor.

Subsequently, changes in the make-up of the House membership set the stage for further shifts in power from committees to party leaders. Constituency changes in the 1960s and later, altered the ideological make-up of the parties in Congress. As a result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Democratic Party began to see a shift in its voting base. As Southern blacks joined the Democratic Party and as more conservative voters began to leave the party, Democrats in Congress became more homogenous in their policy preferences, taking on a more liberal set of policy goals. Newly elected Democrats from the South began to have more in common with Democrats from the North, leading to less division within the party.2 As members of the Democratic Caucus grew more alike ideologically, and less like conservative Southern committee chairmen, they developed an increased incentive to strengthen the power of the party leadership relative to committees. Overall, it was the fact that committees were no longer sufficiently helping liberal Democrats meet their individual goals that they began to seek alternative institutional means.

As intra-party homogeneity and inter-party heterogeneity increased during the 1960s and 70s, the goals of members of different parties on the committee began to diverge and, in turn, committee autonomy decreased. Members of each party on the committees were now turning to their respective parties to accomplish their goals. Because the preferences of members within each party were becoming more similar, they were more willing to trust that leaders chosen to represent the party would seek policies that were in line with the members’ own preferences.

This shift of power away from the committee to the majority party leaders can be explained by applying the theory of conditional party government (CPG).3 This theory states that as policy preferences become more homogenous within a party, members will be progressively more likely to grant power to party leaders and support the use of that power. Moreover, as the two parties become more different, this tendency will be reinforced, as the consequences of losing majority control over policy become increasingly negative. In terms of Fenno’s theory, because greater ideological divergence between the members of different parties on the committee, there was more of a tendency for members to turn to party leaders rather than committee leaders to fulfill their individual goals. In turn, because individuals began to serve as agents of their own parties, members of the different parties on the committee no longer shared the same set of strategic premises.

Through the 1970s and 80s, as the liberal contingent of the Democratic party in Congress grew, there was increased incentive for members of the party to enhance the power of the party relative to the committee chairs. In an effort to end the automatic nature of the seniority system and potentially replace conservative committee chairs, the Democratic caucus adopted a rule providing for a secret ballot vote on all committee chairs. In addition, the party adopted rules to restrict the power of chosen chairs by shifting more powers to the subcommittees. The Subcommittee Bill of Rights, adopted in 1973, ended the ability of full committee chairs to appoint subcommittee chairs and control subcommittee budgets and staff. In the following year, the power to appoint Democratic members of committees was also shifted from the Democratic contingent on Ways and Means to the new Steering and Policy Committee (made up primarily of party leaders and their appointees). In addition, the Speaker of the House received further powers, including the right to appoint the chair and Democratic members of the Rules Committee and enhanced discretion over referring bills to committee.

Many observers claimed that the primary consequence of the reforms enacted in the 1970s was further decentralization of power from the committee chairs to the subcommittees.4 However, as Democratic Party homogeneity continued to increase throughout the 1980s, party members became increasingly willing to empower party leaders and support the use of leadership power to advance the party agenda. In the language of Fenno’s theory, the party structures in the House became increasingly prominent in the environments of the chambers’ committees, and therefore increasingly influential over the committees’ operations and decisions. Parties were now being seen as a means through which party members on the committees could advance their increasingly cohesive agendas.

Members who did not share the party’s dominant ideology, however, were facing increasing pressure from the party. Southern conservative committee chairs, for example, were induced to refrain from blocking party bills and to support the Democratic Party’s legislative program. As a result of the 1972 reform, in which chairs were to be confirmed (or not) by a secret ballot, committee chairmen began to recognize that their continued hold on their positions might now be dependent on their party support. This was confirmed in 1975 when three southern committee chairs were removed from their chairmanships and replaced by liberal northern Democrats. As a result of this new constraint on the power of the committee chair, sitting chairs and members who were close in seniority to committee chairs had incentives to increase their levels of support for the party’s agenda. Many members did change their behavior,5 including Rep Jamie Whitten, D-Miss who, in an effort to win retain the chairmanship of the his Appropriations subcCommittee (and later gain the full committee chairmanship) increased his party unity score from eighteen points below the average Southern Democrat in 1973-74, to two points higher than the average Democrat in 1988.6 It became apparent that committee chairmen were no longer independent and insulated actors, free to run their committees as they saw fit, but instead were becoming agents of the Democratic Caucus.

From the reform period through the early 1990s, the homogeneity of both parties continued to increase and their ideological centers of gravity continued to move apart. This strengthening of the two conditions that underlay Conditional Party Government reinforced the incentives for creating stronger party leadership and supporting the exercise of their powers. For the Democratic majority, this process reached its peak under Speaker Jim Wright in the 100th Congress (1981-89).7 But after the 1994 elections, when the Republicans took over majority control of the House for the first time in 40 years, the partisan transition created the opportunity for a different organizational pattern and a test for the theoretical claims of CPG.

It was logically possible that the Republicans would choose to adopt a structure more like the old patterns before the Democratic reform era, but CPG would not predict that. The new, large class of GOP members was overwhelmingly conservative, moving the Republican contingent in the House to the right. Meanwhile, Democratic losses were disproportionately concentrated among the more moderate members, leaving the Democratic Caucus more liberal than before the elections. Thus CPG predicts a reinforcement, not a waning, of the concentration of power in the new majority party leadership, and that is what occurred.

First, the new Speaker, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, asserted the right to choose the chairmen of the committees that he regarded as most important for his party’s agenda.8 This established an even stronger connection between committee chairs and the Speaker. Second, Gingrich devised a new committee assignment system for the Republicans under which the top party leadership had much greater voting power. This permitted the leadership to dominate appointments to the top committees and build supportive contingents on them. Third, six-year term limits were imposed on committee leadership positions, further undermining the independent power of chairs. Using Fenno’s terminology, these developments increased the prominence of the party in the committees’ environments. This prominence was most visibly manifested when the Republican leadership compelled the Appropriations Committee to use its bills as vehicles for large changes in legislative policy, rather than just deciding on spending levels, as was its previous pattern. (We will offer some details on that effort below.)

In addition to these consequential organizational changes we have just mentioned, the party shift after 1994 was important for another reason. When Fenno wrote his analysis of committees, the House was in the middle of the four decades of Democratic rule. He did not focus on the importance of majority control, and we think it was for an obvious reason. Before and after he wrote, there was little doubt among analysts of the House, or among the members they studied, which party would hold the majority after the upcoming elections. This relative certainty, however, was shattered by the surprising GOP win in 1994. From that point on, majority control has been up for grabs in most elections. Moreover, because of the organizational developments we have described, majority control became more important. No matter which of Fenno’s three goals a member pursued, the chances of satisfying them were affected by whether the member was in the majority or the minority. Party became increasingly relevant to members’ individual reelection chances, both because of the import of party reputation to the electorate and the increasing role of party’s in campaign finance.9 If a member wanted to exercise power in the House, she would have more ability to do so as a member of the majority than the minority. And for members who cared about policy, it became increasingly true that majority status was essential to having influence. Thus with the 1994 elections, we propose an amendment to Fenno’s specification of goals, adding the achievement or maintenance of majority status as a fourth major goal.

Due to scandals and conflicts, Gingrich’s time as Speaker came to an end after four years. Another leadership transition offered another opportunity for the House to move back toward earlier organizational patterns. This was especially relevant because Gingrich’s successor, Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, promised exactly that. He pledged that there would be greater independence and autonomy for committees, relying on their expertise to develop policy solutions within their jurisdictions. Again, however, this is not what CPG would predict, and it is not what occurred. Instead, Hastert continued to use the powers he inherited from his predecessor to influence the behavior and decisions of committees. In fact, he even expanded the influence of the party leadership. The most consequential example was at the end of his first term as Speaker, when the six-year term limits the Republicans had adopted in 1994 came due. Not surprisingly, many of the chairs who were slated to lose their positions no longer saw the merits of term limits and sought either their abolition or individual exceptions. Hastert, however, resisted these efforts and kept the term limits in effect. Moreover, when it came to filling the large number of chair vacancies that this created, he set up a new selection procedure that basically obliterated the remaining vestiges of the seniority norm. Chairs were to be selected via competitive elections within the party’s steering committee, which was in turn dominated by party leaders and their supporters. Then two years later, at Hastert’s initiative, this new procedure was extended to the selection of subcommittee chairs on the powerful and consequential Appropriations Committee.

This Republican regime lasted until the Democrats retook control of the House in the 2006 elections. When they took over, they reverted to their previous selection system for committee chairs, presuming that the most senior member got the first shot, but requiring a secret-ballot vote to confirm each one. They also kept some of the rules that the Republicans had added, including term limits on chairs, at least temporarily.10 During the 110th Congress (2007-2009) Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) frequently pressured committees and their chairs to produce legislation that served her party’s interests. For example, she once forced John Dingell, chairman of the Energy Committee and the most senior Democrat in the House, to change the content of a bill his committee had approved. Then at the beginning of the 111th Congress, when the Energy Committee would critical in shaping many bills important to the newly elected President Barack Obama, one of Pelosi’s strongest allies in the chamber—Henry Waxman of California-- successfully sought to displace Dingell as committee chair.

When the Republicans regained control of the House in 2011, they adopted a rules package that contained several provisions that had initially been adopted by the GOP in 1995, including a reinstatement of six-year term limits on committee chairmen. When selecting chairs, the Republican Steering Committee generally chose members who were the most senior for the position, only bypassing seniority when this conflicted with new term limit rules. Facing a divided Conference of traditional conservatives and newly elected “Tea Party” insurgents, the Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) pledged to change the “top-down” approach to House politics, giving committee chairmen more control over legislation and allowing party members more opportunities to modify legislation by way of amendments.11 Throughout the term, however, Boehner became increasingly involved in the legislative process in order to foster party unity and pass key legislation in the House, frequently bypassing or pressuring committees. This often resulted in the shifting of policy further to the right in an effort to garner the support of party conservatives.12 From the point of view of CPG, we would expect this more heterogeneous party contingent to be less likely to grant the leadership a free hand in employing the powers delegated to them, and that is what has transpired.

So we see that in the decades after the initial Democratic reforms of the 1970s, the pattern of strengthening party leadership in the House was extended and reinforced, just as Conditional Party Government theory expected. The era of independent and autonomous committees and weak parties had been replaced by a system in which party contingents on committees were agents of their respective party contingents in the chamber. And the party’s interests and wishes were pressed on the committees by the leadership. Yet with all these changes, the structure of Fenno’s theory remained almost completely applicable, although many substantive details changed. Members retained multiple goals (including the enhanced importance of majority control), all of which could be benefitted via committee service. Committees continued to be influenced by important actors in their environments, although parties in the chamber became much more prominent and the importance of many other actors receded. The more polarized context led to changes in the decision premises of committees, and parties came to have much more influence on outcomes.

With this general treatment as background, we now turn to focus on the two most important committees Fenno included in his account, Appropriations and Ways and Means, in order to show in some detail the impact of the changes we have described on individual committees. We add to our coverage the third “prestige” committee from the period about which Fenno wrote, Rules. Even though Fenno did not include Rules as one of the six House committees he considered, it was central to the developments we have focused on and it was closely linked to the happenings on the other two committees we examine.

Rules: The Reforms’ First Target, The Biggest Impact

Before the 1960s, the Rules Committee was described by many as a “legislative cemetery.”13 This was because of its propensity to prevent bills its members did not favor from being considered by the full House. The committee was the traffic cop of the legislative agenda. Almost all major bills required a “special rule” to make it to the House floor. That rule would specify the parameters for debate, including length of time and whether amendments would be considered. It could also specify whether any rules of the chamber would be set aside for the purposes of considering that particular bill. For a long time, the committee was made up of twelve members, eight from the majority and four from the minority. When the Democrats controlled a majority, two of the eight on their side were conservative southerners (one of whom, Howard “Judge” Smith of Virginia, was the chair from 1955-1966). Frequently the two southerners would vote with the four Republicans to block bills favored by northern Democrats, hence the “cemetery” characterization.

As troublesome as the committee’s behavior was for the majority of Democrats in the 1940s and 1950s, concern was heightened by the election of John Kennedy as president. There was great fear that Rules would sabotage much of the Kennedy agenda, so some liberal Democrats worked to prevent this from happening. One proposal was to alter the powers of the committee while another was to change the membership (perhaps by removing Smith), but Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas opposed these ideas for both tactical and substantive reasons. Instead Rayburn agreed to support a plan to enlarge the committee by three members (two majority and one minority), and he secured House approval of that proposal when the Congress convened in 1961.

While this new regime largely did away with bills being blocked by an evenly divided committee, it did nothing to change the insulation of the members and the chair from the influence of the majority leadership. If the majority members of Rules supported the Speaker’s plans and proposals, it was because they chose to do so, not because they were induced to do it by institutional arrangements. This modest improvement in the situation for “national” Democrats (mostly liberal northerners and a few southerners in sympathy with them) was all that was practical in the 1960s, when the Democrats were deeply divided along regional lines.14 However, as the ideological balance shifted in the party in the 1970s, the reformers sought much more. After the 1974 elections, the Democratic Caucus approved a change in its rules that granted the Speaker the power to appoint and remove the chair and majority members of the Rules Committee, subject to the ratification of those choices by the Caucus. This change was proposed by Richard Bolling of Missouri, a senior member of Rules, and long-time advocate of reforms to strengthen the majority party’s leadership. By this single action, the party transformed the relationship between the Democrats on the committee and the party leadership. Both the property right norm and the seniority norm were obliterated for this committee’s majority members, and the basis for its autonomy was eliminated.

From this time forward, Rules was no longer an independent influence on the House agenda. It became instead, in Oppenheimer’s words, an “arm of leadership.”15 In terms of Fenno’s theoretical framework, the Speaker and the rest of the party Caucus became a much more prominent element in the committee’s environment, and the influence of all other environmental forces was reduced enormously. The committee had become, in effect, an agent of the Democratic leaders, although it took those leaders a while to take full advantage of the new circumstances. With the increase in partisan polarization that followed on the election of Ronald Reagan as president, however, the leadership began to make more robust use of the committee to control floor activity in order to produce outcomes more favorable to their party.

The special rules issued by the committee could control various aspects of floor procedures, but the most important of these under the new regime was what amendments would be permitted. Before 1975 this matter was fairly simple. Most special rules were “open;” any amendment that was otherwise legal under House rules was permitted, and so the amendment process was free of restriction for most bills. In a few cases, on the other hand (most of which involved tax bills from Ways and Means), all amendments were banned. These were called “closed” rules. For such bills, the floor was offered a “take-it-or-leave-it” choice; no changes were feasible. For a special rule to take effect, it had to be adopted on the floor. Closed rules were few, but they tended to involve conflict between the parties and they often provoked partisan roll calls for adoption. Open rules were seldom voted on by roll call. So, as Figure 1 shows, up through the 93rd Congress (1973-75) there were relatively few roll calls on special rules and the proportion of those votes that were partisan (by two alternative definitions16) varied erratically from one congress to another.17 From 1975 on, other types of rules emerged. They were known by various names, but the generic term was “complex” rules.18 The thing all the variations had in common was that some amendments were permitted and some were not, and it was Rules that decided (under the command of the Speaker) which was which.

Why did this matter? Why was control of amendments important? There were two major reasons. First, amendments, if adopted, would change the policies proposed by committee bills. Because of the increasing homogeneity of the preferences of House Democrats and of the reforms that undermined committee autonomy, bills reported by committees increasingly reflected the views of a majority of Democrats. Amendments from the minority party would usually propose changes away from what Democrats wanted. Thus if a minority amendment were likely to pass, Democrats had an incentive to block its consideration. But, one might ask, why not just vote down such an amendment? The answer is that while some Democratic members might oppose those amendments (based on their own personal policy preferences), their constituents might not. This was often true for Democrats from the South or from competitive constituencies that tilted toward the Republicans. For such members, it was much to their advantage not to have to go on record on those amendments, and the Rules Committee could prevent that by blocking amendments from being offered.

But it wasn’t just amendments that might pass that were a problem. The minority also had an incentive to propose amendments that they were sure would fail but that would prove politically embarrassing to some Democrats, such as those types just noted. So blocking amendments could prevent both legislative and political damage to members of the majority. In addition, the minority might use amendments to consume floor time and delay the overall flow of the legislative process. In this case control of amendments protected the majority’s legislative program in the aggregate. Thus the Rules Committee was important for protecting all four goals of their members we discussed above. And over time, the leadership devised other means beyond just blocking amendments to serve majority interests, such as specifying in the special rule that certain desirable amendments would be automatically adopted with the rule, thus protecting their members from having to cast a specific vote in favor.19 The increasing use of special rules to serve the majority’s interests was reflected in the changing pattern of roll calls on them. As the majority party sought to use special rules more frequently to their advantage, the votes on those rules exhibited more partisan conflict. Using the standard of simple majorities of the parties being opposed, the proportion of votes on special rules that were partisan grew from 27 percent in the 94th Congress (1975-77), when the Speaker gained control of Rules, to 88 percent in the 103rd Congress (1993-95; see Figure 1), at the beginning of President Clinton’s first term.

These developments all occurred during the forty-year period that the Democrats controlled the House. Not surprisingly, the Republicans vigorously protested the Democrats’ manipulation of the floor agenda, charging that the minority was being unfairly treated.20 Then came the election of 1994, and the first transfer of partisan control in four decades. The new Republican leadership, under Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, had the chance to reveal its approach to these issues. The first indication that the role of the Rules Committee might not be different under the GOP came when the Republicans retained the right of the Speaker to appoint its chair and majority members.

Thus the majority contingent on Rules remained an agent of the Speaker. Moreover, after so long in the minority, there were many policy changes the Republicans wanted to enact. This resulted in continued efforts of the majority to control the agenda in the new regime. Despite their previous objections, some of the GOP strategies paralleled what the Democrats had done: limiting or blocking amendments by Democrats while permitting amendments by members of the majority. David Dreier (R-Calif.), a member of Rules under Gingrich and later its chair under Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, noted that he used to complain about the Democrats’ use of special rules, but he quickly learned that the majority needed that capability. “’I had known what it took to govern,’ he acknowledged. Now ‘our number one priority is to move our agenda.”21 Impartial observers judged that the Republicans’ use of strategic agenda control was at least equal to their Democratic predecessors. For example, Don Wolfensberger, former head of the Republican staff on the Rules Committee, contended: “By the 107th Congress (2001-2003) … the Republicans had far exceeded the Democrats’ worst excesses in restricting floor amendments.”22

In other ways, moreover, the Republicans’ agenda controls were more extensive and innovative than what the Democrats had employed. As we noted, the new GOP majority wanted to make many substantial changes in existing policy. Their leaders were concerned that the party’s senior members on committees might be resistant to those changes because they would have vested interests in current arrangements within their jurisdictions. So the leadership planned to bypass the standing committees in many instances by embedding legislative changes in various appropriations bills.

One difficulty with this strategy was that it is a violation of House rules to have legislative language in appropriations measures; they are only supposed to set spending levels. However, control of the Rules Committee provided a solution because a special rule can set aside standing House rules for the individual bill it applies to. Thus the majority party could legislate via appropriations bills, but they could deny the minority the same capability. The Republicans used this device extensively during the four years of Gingrich’s speakership, and more sparingly in subsequent years.23 We will discuss some details about these efforts in the section on the Appropriations Committee below.

The Republicans’ intensification of agenda control efforts is reflected in the roll-call data on special rules in Figure 1. The proportion of the votes that were partisan by the 51 versus 51 percent standard, which we saw had already been very high, inched up a bit more by the last two Republican congresses, the 108th and the 109th (2003-2007), surpassing 90 percent. But even more striking is the pattern in the other line of data, which sets a much higher standard for partisanship: at least 90 percent of each party in opposition to the other. In earlier congresses in the series, the proportion of such highly conflictual votes was quite low (below 20 percent), but from the 100th Congress on, it began to rise substantially, and by the end of the Republican period of control in the 109th Congress, it surpassed 80 percent. In addition to the majority’s intensified efforts to control the agenda, another reason for this sharp increase in partisan votes on rules was the response by the minority party, which actively began organized efforts to defeat the adoption of the majority’s special rules.

The majority party’s efforts to secure agenda advantage, and the divisive partisan conflict over those efforts, persisted during the two Democratic congresses from 2007-2011. From the time she took the top post, Speaker Pelosi demonstrated her willingness to use special rules to advantage her party’s priorities.24 And, as we see in Figure 1, her tactics produced virtually complete partisan polarization on rules votes. In the 110th Congress, 98 percent of those votes found 90 percent party majorities on opposite sides. Another development at the beginning of that Congress vividly demonstrates the changed status of the Rules Committee due to its altered relationship to the majority leadership. At the time Fenno wrote, an assignment to Rules was in high demand, usually going to members with significant prior service, and it was an exclusive committee (i.e., the only one on which a member could serve). In the 110th Congress, when the Democrats took over, they had to appoint five new members to fill their allotment. Four of the five were freshmen, and the Democrats also removed the “exclusive” designation, permitting members to serve on other committees as well. The committee that was so desirable when it was an independent seat of power in the chamber was much less so as a service committee in support of the majority leadership.

When the Republicans retook control of the House after the 2010 elections, they restored their previous arrangements regarding the relationship between the committee and the leadership. Data from the first nine months of the 112th Congress indicate that the leadership continued active efforts at agenda control via the committee, with forty-percent of the rules being closed and another thirty-seven percent being structured.25

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