Synopses & Reviews
The 2009 financial stimulus bill ran to more than 1,100 pages, yet it wasnandrsquo;t even given to Congress in its final form until thirteen hours before debate was set to begin, and it was passed twenty-eight hours later. How are representatives expected to digest so much information in such a short time.
The answer? They arenandrsquo;t. With Legislating in the Dark, James M. Curry reveals that the availability of information about legislation is a key tool through which Congressional leadership exercises power. Through a deft mix of legislative analysis, interviews, and participant observation, Curry shows how congresspersonsandmdash;lacking the time and resources to study bills deeply themselvesandmdash;are forced to rely on information and cues from their leadership. By controlling their rank-and-fileandrsquo;s access to information, Congressional leaders are able to emphasize or bury particular items, exploiting their information advantage to push the legislative agenda in directions that they and their party prefer.
Offering an unexpected new way of thinking about party power and influence, Legislating in the Dark will spark substantial debate in political science.
". . . a very fine book. Anyone interested in legislative leadership should read this book."and#8212;David T. Canon, Congress and the Presidency
and#160;Finalist for the 2013 D. B. Hardeman Prize, given by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation.
andldquo;Curry brings fresh insight and a breadth of evidence to bear on the role of information in lawmaking, including extensive interviews with legislators and staff and in-depth case studies of several pieces of legislation. Engagingly written, the book will enhance our understandings of congressional lawmaking and leadership and will be of interest to scholars of legislative studies and public policy.andrdquo;
andldquo;It has been a fair amount of time since such an important and innovative book on Congress has appeared on the scene, and Legislating in the Dark will do much to inspire new research.andrdquo;
Matthew N. Green provides the first comprehensive analysis of how the Speaker of the House has exercised legislative leadership from 1940 to the present. Green finds that the Speakerand#8217;s party loyalty is tempered by a host of competing objectives, including reelection, passage of desired public policy laws, handling the interests of the president, and meeting the demands of the House as a whole.
Much of the current work on party power and influence in Congress focuses on the ability of leaders to control the legislative agenda or to dole out pork or other incentives. Yet, another school of thought argues that legislative leaders have relatively little sway over their rank-and-file. James M. Curry argues that we have been overlooking a key source of the power held by congressional leaders: their ability to withhold or provide information from and to their rank and file. By focusing the attention of lawmakers on certain informationand#151;or making that information difficult to obtainand#151;leaders attempt to move them to support the positions of their party and their committee chairs. Typically, members of Congress lack the time and resources necessary to study or become deeply involved in most bills and have to rely on information and cues from others in deciding whether to support or oppose legislation. Having those resources, legislative leaders can open or close the informational tap, as it were, to suit their purposes. Take, for example, the Democratic leadershipand#8217;s handling of the final version of the financial stimulus bill in 2009. Although the bill was over 1,100 pages, Congress was given only 13 hours to study it before debate was to begin. Curry explains how this strategy was designed as much to keep Democrats in the dark, as it was Republicans. Democratic leaders knew that if they could avoid losing individual members over whatever details of the act might attract attention, the bill would pass on a straight party-line vote. By becoming the font of information for a bill that nobody had (been given) time to read, they could selectively highlight or bury pertinent items. The bill was passed four days later. Ultimately, Curry shows that, far from an aberration, the process by which the stimulus bill was considered and passed is no more than a common example of leadership-driven lawmaking in the U.S. House of Representatives today.
About the Author
James M. Curry is assistant professor of political science at the University of Utah. In 2011 and 2012, he was an APSA Congressional Fellow in the office of Illinois congressman Daniel Lipinski.