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As Democrats and Republicans continue to vie for political advantage, Congress remains paralyzed by partisan conflict. That the last two decades have seen some of the least productive Congresses in recent history is usually explained by the growing ideological gulf between the parties, but this explanation misses another fundamental factor influencing the dynamic. In contrast to politics through most of the twentieth century, the contemporary Democratic and Republican parties compete for control of Congress at relative parity, and this has dramatically changed the parties’ incentives and strategies in ways that have driven the contentious partisanship characteristic of contemporary American politics.

With Insecure Majorities, Frances E. Lee offers a controversial new perspective on the rise of congressional party conflict, showing how the shift in competitive circumstances has had a profound impact on how Democrats and Republicans interact. For nearly half a century, Democrats were the majority party, usually maintaining control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate. Republicans did not stand much chance of winning majority status, and Democrats could not conceive of losing it. Under such uncompetitive conditions, scant collective action was exerted by either party toward building or preserving a majority. Beginning in the 1980s, that changed, and most elections since have offered the prospect of a change of party control. Lee shows, through an impressive range of interviews and analysis, how competition for control of the government drives members of both parties to participate in actions that promote their own party’s image and undercut that of the opposition, including the perpetual hunt for issues that can score political points by putting the opposing party on the wrong side of public opinion. More often than not, this strategy stands in the way of productive bipartisan cooperation—and it is also unlikely to change as long as control of the government remains within reach for both parties.
No legislature in the world has a greater influence over its nation's public affairs than the US Congress. The Congress's centrality in the US system of government has placed research on Congress at the heart of scholarship on American politics. Generations of American government scholars working in a wide range of methodological traditions have focused their analysis on understanding Congress, both as a lawmaking and a representative institution. The purpose of this volume is to take stock of this impressive and diverse literature, identifying areas of accomplishment and promising directions for future work. The editors have commissioned 37 chapters by leading scholars in the field, each chapter critically engages the scholarship focusing on a particular aspect of congressional politics, including the institution's responsiveness to the American public, its procedures and capacities for policymaking, its internal procedures and development, relationships between the branches of government, and the scholarly methodologies for approaching these topics. The Handbook also includes chapters addressing timely questions, including partisan polarization, congressional war powers, and the supermajoritarian procedures of the contemporary Senate. Beyond simply bringing readers up to speed on the current state of research, the volume offers critical assessments of how each literature has progressed - or failed to progress - in recent decades. The chapters identify the major questions posed by each line of research and assess the degree to which the answers developed in the literature are persuasive. The goal is not simply to tell us where we have been as a field, but to set an agenda for research on Congress for the next decade. The Oxford Handbooks of American Politics are a set of reference books offering authoritative and engaging critical overviews of the state of scholarship on American politics. Each volume focuses on a particular aspect of the field. The project is under the General Editorship of George C. Edwards III, and distinguished specialists in their respective fields edit each volume. The Handbooks aim not just to report on the discipline, but also to shape it as scholars critically assess the scholarship on a topic and propose directions in which it needs to move. The series is an indispensable reference for anyone working in American politics. General Editor for The Oxford Handbooks of American Politics: George C. Edwards III
No legislature in the world has a greater influence over its nation's public affairs than the US Congress. The Congress's centrality in the US system of government has placed research on Congress at the heart of scholarship on American politics. Generations of American government scholars working in a wide range of methodological traditions have focused their analysis on understanding Congress, both as a lawmaking and a representative institution. The purpose of this volume is to take stock of this impressive and diverse literature, identifying areas of accomplishment and promising directions for future work. The editors have commissioned 37 chapters by leading scholars in the field, each chapter critically engages the scholarship focusing on a particular aspect of congressional politics, including the institution's responsiveness to the American public, its procedures and capacities for policymaking, its internal procedures and development, relationships between the branches of government, and the scholarly methodologies for approaching these topics. The Handbook also includes chapters addressing timely questions, including partisan polarization, congressional war powers, and the supermajoritarian procedures of the contemporary Senate. Beyond simply bringing readers up to speed on the current state of research, the volume offers critical assessments of how each literature has progressed - or failed to progress - in recent decades. The chapters identify the major questions posed by each line of research and assess the degree to which the answers developed in the literature are persuasive. The goal is not simply to tell us where we have been as a field, but to set an agenda for research on Congress for the next decade. The Oxford Handbooks of American Politics are a set of reference books offering authoritative and engaging critical overviews of the state of scholarship on American politics. Each volume focuses on a particular aspect of the field. The project is under the General Editorship of George C. Edwards III, and distinguished specialists in their respective fields edit each volume. The Handbooks aim not just to report on the discipline, but also to shape it as scholars critically assess the scholarship on a topic and propose directions in which it needs to move. The series is an indispensable reference for anyone working in American politics. General Editor for The Oxford Handbooks of American Politics: George C. Edwards III
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