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The Institutional Foundations of Committee Power

Kenneth A. Shepsle and Barry R. Weingast
The American Political Science Review
Vol. 81, No. 1 (Mar., 1987), pp. 85-104
DOI: 10.2307/1960780
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1960780
Page Count: 20
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The Institutional Foundations of Committee Power
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Abstract

Legislative committees have fascinated scholars and reformers for more than a century. All acknowledge the central strategic position of committees in legislatures. The consensus, however, centers on empirical regularities and stylized facts, not on explanations. We seek to explain why committees are powerful. We formulate an institutionally rich rational-choice model of legislative politics in which the sequence of the legislative process is given special prominence. Committees, as agenda setters in their respective jurisdictions, are able to enforce many of their policy wishes not only because they originate bills but also because they get a second chance after their chamber has worked its will. This occurs at the conference stage in which the two chambers of a bicameral legislature resolve differences between versions of a bill. A theory of conference politics is offered and some evidence from recent Congresses is provided.

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