Title: Congressional reform and its institutional consequences
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00100758/00001
 Material Information
Title: Congressional reform and its institutional consequences the 1974 Budget Act in the U.S. House
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Wright, Fiona M
Publisher: State University System of Florida
Place of Publication: Florida
Publication Date: 2000
Copyright Date: 2000
Subject: Political Science thesis, Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Political Science -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Summary: ABSTRACT: This dissertation evaluates the mix of constituency, partisan and internal factors that led to the passage of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 and its consequences within the U.S. House. I hypothesize that the compromises necessary to get the Act approved by the chamber in 1973, combined with further shifts in external political and economic conditions immediately following its introduction, caused the reforms to have consequences within the institution that were largely neither foreseen nor intended by most of the members that supported the House reform bill in 1973. This study presents quantitative data on House Budget Committee and floor voting on resolution amendments and passage as well as key indicators of committee composition over time. These data are supplemented with qualitative evidence gathered from congressional records and reports, journalistic sources, and over 40 original in-depth interviews conducted with past and present members of Congress and personal and committee staff members.
Summary: ABSTRACT (cont.): I conclude that while partisan and constituency factors were critical in the enactment of budget reform in 1974, powerful and enduring internal resistance to the new process, both before and after reform critically limited the scope of the original statute and its subsequent influence and operations in the House. It caused certain key provisions to be included in the 1974 Act that ironically helped maximize rather than minimize the disruptive impact of the new process on existing arrangements. This internal resistance (centered around the House Appropriations Committee) has proven to be both highly durable and surprisingly independent of the state of federal budget, the broader economy, and the congressional parties. In spite of the subsequent polarization of the parties, persistently high levels of member dissatisfaction with the process, the change in majority party control, and the transition from annual budget deficits to surpluses, neither party has been able to make substantial changes to the system established by the 1974 Act.
Summary: KEYWORDS: Congress, U.S. House, budget process, budget politics; partisanship
Thesis: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 2000.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 293-301).
System Details: System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
System Details: Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Statement of Responsibility: by Fiona Mary Wright.
General Note: Title from first page of PDF file.
General Note: Document formatted into pages; contains xiii, 302 p.; also contains graphics.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00100758
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 45839376
alephbibnum - 002640173
notis - ANA7004


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Copyright 2000


Fiona Mary Wright

For Gran


First and foremost, I would like to thank Larry Dodd for his generous support and

encouragement. I am particularly grateful to him for giving me the latitude to find my

own way through all of this, and his seemingly unshakable enthusiasm and confidence in

my ability to do has been invaluable in my seeing this through to its completion. I am

also indebted to him for the financial support that he has provided to me as the Manning

Dauer Eminent Scholar Chair at the University of Florida. I also owe significant debts of

gratitude to several present and former faculty at the University of Florida. In particular, I

need to thank Mike Martinez, for being rash enough to admit me and support me in the

first place; Dave Rohde, for facilitating my smooth transition into the discipline and

sparking a deep fascination with all things congressional; Wayne Francis for his patient

support and advice, and last, but not least, the amazing Peggy Conway, for helping me

put (and keep) it all in perspective. Larry Kenny also contributed very useful comments

and constructive criticism (not to mention statistical expertise) from his vantage point in

the Department of Economics.

I would also like to thank the Brookings Institution for a one-year dissertation

fellowship that allowed me to conduct research inside the beltway. I am indebted to all

who sat through my two research presentations, though I would particularly like to

single out Sarah Binder, Kent Weaver, Tom Mann, John Kingdon, Allen Schick, and

Andy Rich for their helpful criticism and comments. I am also very grateful to Bill

Frenzel for his interest and insights and willingness to answer just about any question I

cared to ask.

Special thanks are also due to all of the current and former members of Congress

who gave their time to share their thoughts and insights. While I spoke with many

individuals who preferred to remain anonymous, among those who did not, I would like

to acknowledge John Anderson, Beryl Anthony, William Broadhead, Elford Cederberg,

Barber Conable, Sam Gibbons, Bill Goodling, Bill Gradison, James Jones, Jim Mattox,

Dan Miller, Leon Panetta, Earl Pomeroy, David Price, Paul Simon and Charlie Stenholm,

for their extraordinary openness and generosity with their time. The Dirksen

Congressional Center and the Caterpillar Foundation also provided financial support for

my interview activities.

I must also acknowledge the extraordinary and unwavering support and

encouragement I have received through all of this from my family. My parents have

always seemed to understand my decisions well before I ever did and their quiet faith in

me and my capabilities has helped carry me through some tough times. I must also thank

my siblings, Deirdre, Tom and Eleanor for their steady support and generosity in

chipping in on behalf of their impoverished eternal student sister. Finally, my greatest

thanks go to Joep Luijten for lighting up my life all day every day and making grad

school way more fun than I'm sure it's supposed to be. He has understood and supported

me in ways that never cease to amaze me and for which I will be forever grateful.



ACKNOW LEDGM ENTS .......................................... iv

LIST OF TABLES................... ....................................... ....... ix

LIST OF FIGURES................. ................. ................ ... ........ ...xi

ABSTRACT................... .... ............................................... xii



Introduction ................ ................................... ............... 1
The Importance of Rules .................. ............................... 3
Three Dimensions of Reform ...................... ......... ..... .............. 9
C onstituency.................................. ................... ........ 11
Partisan .................... ............................................. 13
Internal ................. ............. ......................... ........ 15
D iscussion..................................... ........ ......... ......... 18
The Case of the 1974 Budget Reforms ................................... 20
Overview .................. .............. ......................... ........ 24

R EFO R M .................................... ................. ........... 28

The Three Dimensions and Budgetary Reform.............. .............. 30
Budgeting in the Prereform House......................... ... ................ 39
Stresses on the System, 1967-72............... ............................ 44
The Adversarial Executive and Budget Reform...............................50
Congressional Acquiescence and the Debt Ceiling Increase Bill,
October 1972............................ ................ 58
The D ebt Ceiling Increase Bill.................................... .......... 60
N otes...... .......................... ................ 69

ITS A FTERM A TH ............................................................. 72

The Joint Study Committee Reports, April 1973 ............................. 75
The Evolution of the Reform Coalition in the House,
July-D ecem ber 1973 ........................................................... 79
The Impoundment Control Bill, July 1973........._. ... .......... 80
The Rules Committee Negotiations ......... .............................. 88
The Rules Com m ittee Bill................................. ............. 91
Im plications.................... .......... .............. 102
N otes ................ .... .......... .................. ... ......... 106

IMPLEMENTATION, 1975-78...................... ......................... 108

The Dry Run of 1975 ............... ...... ...... ...... ........................ 114
House Budget Committee Consideration of the First Resolution....... 119
The First Resolution on the Floor .................. ........................ 125
Implications for the Process in the House ............................... 128
Implem entation, 1976-78 ............ .. ..................... ................. 134
Com m ittee Conflict ......................................................... ... 137
Floor Trouble.............. ............. ..... ................... ......... 142
N otes ................ .... .......... .................. ... ......... 148

CONSOLIDATION, 1979-83 ............... ................ ............... 150

Committee Failure and Floor Chaos, 1979................................ 151
Strengthening the Process and Democratic Collapse, 1980................. 160
Cementing the Changes: The Arrival of the Reagan
A dm inistration, 1981-82................... ................ .... .............. 166
Partisan Consolidation ............. .................. .. ...... ........... ... 175
N otes ................... .................. .................. .. ......... 190

6 CONSOLIDATION TO STALEMATE, 1983-1992.................. ...... 192

Changes in Committee Composition ......................................... 193
A Purely Partisan Affair: The Resolution After 1982......................... 205
Other Influences and Developments.............................. ............ 214
T he President ............. .... ................ .................... .......... 2 15
Budgeting By Form ula................... ................ .... .............. 218
N otes ................... .................................. .... ... . ... 227


The Short-lived Return of Unified Control, 1993-94 .......................... 230
Republicans and Surpluses 1995-99................................ ...........236
The Budget Process and the "Revolution" of 1995...................... 237
Republican Budget Committee Composition and Leadership ............ 241
A Rivalry Renewed: The House Budget and Appropriations Committees. 252
Post-Deal Drift and Renewed Calls for Reform, 1998-99 .................. 257
N otes...... ................................... 263

CONCLUSION S................... .......................... ............. 264

Tim ing and M otivation ............................................................ 265
The Consequences of the 1974 Act ...................... ....... ............ .. 268
O their C onsiderations................. .......... .......... .............. 272
Prospects and Conclusions ................ ................................. 274
Notes................... .................... .................. .......... 280


1975-98..................................... .......... 281


R E FE R E N C E S ........................................... ........... 293

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................. ...... ... ... ......................... 302


Table Pag(

2-1 Party divisions on the Debt Ceiling Increase Bill (HR 16810): The
Mahon (D-Tx.) Amendment and Final Passage Votes, October 10,
1972...... .................................. ......... 63

2-2 Partisan, Constituency and Internal Variables Regressed on Support
for the Mahon Amendment (Logistic Regression)............................. 65

3-1 Party Divisions on the Impoundment Control and Spending Ceiling
Bill (HR 8480): Final Passage, July 25, 1973................................. 84

3-2 Partisan, Constituency and Internal Variables Regressed on Support for
Final Passage of the Impoundment Control Bill (Logistic Regression)...... 87

3-3 Major Provisions of the Joint Study Committee Proposal and the
Reported Rules Committee Bill........... ......................... 93

3-4 Party Divisions on the Rules Committee Reform Bill (HR 7130): The
Martin (R-Neb.) Amendment to strike the anti-impoundment provisions,
D ecem ber 4, 1973 ...................................... ................. ...... 96

3-5 Partisan, Constituency and Internal Variables Regressed on Opposition
to the Martin Amendment (Logistic Regression) ............................ 97

3-6 Performance of Partisan, Constituency and Internal Variables as
Predictors of Support for the Reassertion of Congressional Control
Over Federal Spending (Summary of Logistic Regressions)................ 100

4-1 Floor Amendments Offered to the First Budget Resolution, May 1, 1975... 126

4-2 Amendments Offered, Approved, and Final Passage Votes on House
Budget Resolutions by Party, House Budget Committee, 1975-78........... 139

4-3 Total Years of Service, House Budget Committee Members by
Party, 1975-78 ................................ ..................... ......... 140

4-4 House voting on amendments and final passage; budget resolutions,
1975-78 ....................................................... .. ...... .... 145

5-1 Amendments Offered, Approved, and Final Passage Votes on House
Budget Resolutions by Party, House Budget Committee, 1979-80........... 152

5-2 Floor Amendments Offered, Approved and Final Passage Votes on
House Budget Resolutions, 1979-80........................... .............. 154

6-1 Difference in Mean Previous Year Party Unity Scores; all Democrats,
continuing Budget Committee Democrats and new Budget Committee
Democrats, 1975-1993 ............... ..................................... 196

6-2 Amendments Offered, Approved, and Final Passage Votes on House
Budget Resolutions by Party, House Budget Committee, 1983-94.......... 199

6-3 Amendments Offered, Approved, and Final Passage Votes on House
Budget Resolutions by Party, 1983-94 ........................................ 208

7-1 Committee and Floor Amendments, (offered and approved) and Final
Passage Votes on House Budget Resolutions, Unified Democratic
Control, 1993-94........... ................ .............. 233

7-2 Republican Budget Committee Assignments 1975-99, Difference in
Mean Previous Year Party Unity Scores; all Republicans, Continuing
House Budget Committee (HBC) Republicans and New HBC
Republicans and Freshmen Assignments.................... .............. 242

7-3 Years experience of House Appropriations Committee (HAC) members
on the House Budget Committee (HBC) and mean HBC seniority by
party, 1975-2000 ................ ........ ...... ............... ............ 243

7-4 Amendments Offered, Approved, and Final Passage Votes on House
Budget Resolutions by Party, House Budget Committee, 1993-99........... 247


Figure Page

2-1 Median D-Nominate Scores for House Appropriations Committee
members and non-members, by Party, 1961-73............................. 46

4-1 Percent Floor Support (of those voting) for Final Passage of House
Budget Resolutions, House Appropriations Bills for FY 1976 (1975)...... 134

4-2 Percent floor support (of those voting) for Final Passage of House Budget
Resolutions, House Appropriations bills for FY 1979 (passed in 1978)..... 146

5-1 Distribution of Support (percent of those voting) for 33 Floor
Amendments to the First Budget Resolution, 1979......................... 156

5-2 Distribution of Support (percent of those voting) for 48 Floor
Amendments to the 13 House Appropriations Bills, 1979.................... 156

5-3 Percent Support (among those voting) for Budget Resolutions, House
A pps. B ills, 1979................... ................................... ........ 158

5-4 Percent support (among those voting) for final passage of House Budget
Resolutions, appropriations bills, 1980 ............................ ............ 165

5-5 Distribution of Support (percent of those voting) for 31 Amendments
to the First Budget Resolution (on which recorded votes were taken,
1982 ...................... .................... ...... . . . ..... 173

6-1 Difference between Party Unity on Partisan House Budget Resolution
Final Passage Votes and Mean Party Unity Score by Party, 1975-1994..... 210

Abstract of a Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Fiona Mary Wright

August 2000

Chair: Lawrence C. Dodd
Major Department: Political Science

This dissertation evaluates the mix of constituency, partisan and internal factors

that led to the passage of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of

1974 and its consequences within the U.S. House. I hypothesize that the compromises

necessary to get the Act approved by the chamber in 1973, combined with further shifts

in external political and economic conditions immediately following its introduction,

caused the reforms to have consequences within the institution that were largely neither

foreseen nor intended by most of the members that supported the House reform bill in

1973. This study presents quantitative data on House Budget Committee and floor voting

on resolution amendments and passage as well as key indicators of committee

composition over time. These data are supplemented with qualitative evidence gathered

from congressional records and reports, journalistic sources, and over 40 original in-

depth interviews conducted with past and present members of Congress and personal and

committee staff members.

I conclude that while partisan and constituency factors were critical in the

enactment of budget reform in 1974, powerful and enduring internal resistance to the new

process, both before and after reform critically limited the scope of the original statute

and its subsequent influence and operations in the House. It caused certain key provisions

to be included in the 1974 Act that ironically helped maximize rather than minimize the

disruptive impact of the new process on existing arrangements. This internal resistance

(centered around the House Appropriations Committee) has proven to be both highly

durable and surprisingly independent of the state of federal budget, the broader economy,

and the congressional parties. In spite of the subsequent polarization of the parties,

persistently high levels of member dissatisfaction with the process, the change in

majority party control, and the transition from annual budget deficits to surpluses, neither

party has been able to make substantial changes to the system established by the 1974




The U.S. Constitution granted Congress the authority to make its own rules, and

its members subsequently decided that these could be changed at any time by a simple

majority vote. While minor tinkering with the rules has been virtually incessant, major

changes in the organizing principles and basic procedures of each chamber have been

remarkably rare. This enduring stability has long been a characteristic of great interest to

political scientists, who have come up with a variety of explanations for it. The focus

here, however, is on the periodic internal reforms that occasionally disrupt this otherwise

highly stable set of rules and arrangements.

Specifically, this study examines what was arguably the most significant

congressional reform of recent years--the changes mandated by the 1974 Congressional

Budget and Impoundment Control Act (CBICA)--and their institutional impact on the

U.S House of Representatives. The objective is to shed some light on broader questions

of why reform occurs when it does, what motivates it, and influences its consequences,

through a rigorous evaluation of the mix of constituency, partisan and internal factors that


critically shaped the 1974 CBICA and its longer-term impact on the House as a whole.

The case of the 1974 Act is of particular significance as one of the most dramatic and far-

reaching set of changes in congressional rules and, as I will argue here, ultimately in

institutional culture and norms that has ever been enacted.

Although the passage of the Act in 1974 is typically recognized as a watershed

moment in congressional development, political scientists have found it difficult to

pinpoint exactly what difference it has made. This is in part, because the Act was

motivated by several different goals or expectations, few of which were actually born out

by its consequences. Most of all, it was intended to permit Congress to produce its own

budget (Schick 1980, 1990), an outcome that is very difficult to measure.

Studies that have sought to estimate its impact on outcomes generally do not find

evidence of a strong effect, partly because of numerous methodological problems

including the lack of a control group across the pre- and post-reform eras, and a

potentially endless stream of independent variables. Even relatively straightforward

measures of congressional compliance with, and enforcement of the Act since 1975,

suggest a less than striking significance. The situation is further complicated by the fact

that committee and floor roll calls are of no use after 1982; as described in subsequent

chapters, party accounts for all the variance in both committee and floor voting on

resolutions after that date, and amendments on the floor also become too scarce support

any reliable conclusions.

The research questions of interest in this particular case clearly warrant the multi-

method approach that is utilized here. The focus on both the causes and consequences of

reform requires that the scope of the empirical inquiry extend from before the successful

budget reform movement of 1973-74 through its subsequent development and evolution

in the House. Quantitative data and analysis are presented when available and

appropriate and are supplemented throughout by qualitative evidence gathered from

congressional records and reports, journalistic sources and over 40 original in-depth

interviews conducted with members of Congress and personal and committee staff

members (see Appendix B). As can be seen in the following chapters, the interviews in

particular, provided critical insight into how rules changes can substantially influence not

only outcomes but also, and perhaps just as importantly, the strategies, structure and

culture of the institution itself.

The Importance of Rules

Internal rules and procedures have been widely recognized as important

influences on congressional politics and outcomes; for as William Riker observed,

governing institutions, "are simply rules about behavior, especially about making

decisions" (1980, p. 432). These rules focus the attention of members in systematic and

predictable ways and in doing so can have a strong influence on legislative politics and

policy making (Rockman 1994). This influence is derived from their impact on such

factors as the amount and quality of information or expertise available to members,

member access to decision making across various policy areas, opportunities for, and

barriers to, the accumulation of personal power, as well as the kinds of issues that will be

regularly considered and those that will tend to be avoided or otherwise left out (Dodd

1986b; Krehbiel 1992; McCubbins and Sullivan 1987; Shepsle and Weingast 1987;

Weingast and Marshall 1988). Over time, rules and arrangements may also have an

impact the political climate within Congress insofar as they-intentionally or otherwise-

serve to channel "political energies into certain kinds of conflict and away from others"

(March and Olsen 1989, p.27).

Congressional rules, are therefore expected to effect the substance and parameters

of the agenda, as well as patterns of member influence on its processes and collective

outcomes or decisions. They can affect the content of the agenda by narrowing the

boundaries of the institution's 'routine' agenda to fit pre-conceived expectations of the

government's role and responsibilities and/ or prevalent notions of appropriate or

acceptable solutions (Hinckley 1971). As this 'routine agenda' is subsequently taken up,

rules that permit key factions or leaders to limit the range of alternatives and/ or, the

format and sequence of internal action may be used by them to secure preferred outcomes

(Baron 1995; Shepsle 1979; Shepsle and Weingast 1987).

Through a combination of substantive and procedural controls, internal rules and

arrangements are expected to structure collective decision making to permit majority-rule

legislatures to function in an effective manner. As Arrow (1963) and others have argued,

as abstract entities governed solely by majority rule, legislatures would be plagued by

problems of vote cycling and instability in the production of stable or nonrandom

outcomes (Black 1948, 1958; McKelvey 1976; Plott 1967; Riker 1961, 1980; Schofield

1978). In his landmark 1979 article, Kenneth Shepsle demonstrated that these collective

action problems could be reduced or offset by the addition of a committee system with

'simple' or monopolistic jurisdictions and an amendment control rule. By acting as

gatekeepers for proposals within their own jurisdictions, such committees could support a

set of "structure-induced" equilibrium outcomes regardless of whether or not a

preference-induced equilibrium existed (Shepsle 1979). Rules and processes, he

persuasively argued, were not neutral aggregators of individual preferences but should

advantage one set of proposals over others.

The other mechanism that is often credited with providing a stabilizing influence

on the decisions and outcomes of majority rule legislatures has been strong and cohesive

political parties. Party leaders are expected to internalize the interests of their respective

membership and may periodically be empowered to alleviate collective action problems

through their control of both the legislative agenda and the distribution of institutional

resources among their members (Aldrich 1995b; Cooper and Brady 1981; Cox and

McCubbins 1993, 1995; Dodd and Oppenheimer 1989a; Rohde 1991; Sinclair 1992).

The committee system, however, has generally been accepted as the primary stabilizing

mechanism within the House as the influence and role of parties has been highly variable

over time.

Given that internal rules and arrangements are assumed to have such far-reaching

effects and important implications, congressional reform, or more specifically, major

changes to the formal rules, procedures or structure of either or both houses of Congress,

becomes an issue of particular interest and consequence. Although a great deal of

theoretical and empirical research has demonstrated the significance of congressional

rules and their tendency toward continuity over time, studies that explain why changes

occur when they do, what motivates them, and how likely they are to be successfully

integrated with existing arrangements have been considerably less numerous.

The broader congressional literature offers two distinct approaches to

understanding congressional reform that reflect the broader debate over the balance of

committee versus party control in the House. The first is suggested by individual-level

perspectives in which internal reform is periodically produced by the goal-oriented

behavior of individual members. The second approach is that of institutional perspectives

that emphasize the problematic nature of collective decision making and the tendency of

internal rules and arrangements to become deeply entrenched within the legislature. Such

perspectives typically contend that pre-existing or inherited rules are the strongest

predictors of future rules.

These two camps offer almost entirely contradictory conclusions regarding the

likelihood or frequency of major internal reforms. Individual-level perspectives suggest

that rational member responses to external events and developments drive changes in

internal rules and organization, and that institutions themselves are highly responsive and

adaptable over time. Such understandings view collective decisions and decision making

as a more or less straightforward summation of individual-level preferences and do not

anticipate the rules under which this occurs to independently affect outcomes. Changes in

the rules should be relatively frequent as members' collective support for existing

arrangements is only expected to last until a new majority emerges that favors a different

set of policy goals and priorities.

It has been recognized, however, that such approaches seem to overemphasize

individual-level influences to the point that they seem to suggest "there is no glue holding

the atoms together, there is no society" (Shepsle 1989, p. 134). Institutionalist

perspectives, however, take the opposite view, contending that the strength of the

'societal' glue actually makes movement (change) very difficult. They argue that the

rules and arrangements of large and complex institutions--such as the U.S. Congress--are

not easily affected by changes in their external environment and actually become more

insulated from its reformist pressures over time (Dodd 1986b; Huntingdon 1965; Polsby

1968; March and Olsen 1989). Membership turnover is still expected to provide some

impetus for reform but the conditions under which it might be expected to overcome the

entrenched internal resistance of more senior members has remained unclear.

Majority-rule control over congressional rules and arrangements suggests that

those in force at any given time must be those that best serve the interests of a majority of

members (Lowi 1979; Ripley and Franklin 1980; Krehbiel 1992). As member goals and

priorities shift over time, the assumption is that new majorities will emerge and will alter

or amend internal rules as necessary to facilitate the enactment of their agenda. To a

certain extent, then, the endogeneity of congressional rules also seems to anticipate

relatively regular reforms and adjustments to internal arrangements. That Congress has

the authority to make its own rules is clearly established under the Constitution. The key

to understanding change and continuity in these rules hence becomes the basis on which

members make calculations and decisions about existing rules and arrangements.

Individual-level perspectives suggest that such calculations primarily involve

members' evaluations of the extent to which existing arrangements permit them to pursue

their own personal goals and self-interest. In many cases, however, the linkage between

rules, goals and actual outcomes may not be readily apparent, accurately perceived, or

even consistent over time.

Unless all members are in complete concurrence on every policy issue considered

by Congress, there will inevitably be some individuals whose goals will be frustrated by

the legislative process. Whether or not this frustration has anything to do with the

process itself is another question altogether; the individual's goals or preferences may

simply be out of sync with those of most other members, or with the public as a whole.

Yet it is also possible that it is the rules themselves may be the problem, as they

inevitably do bestow a disproportionate amount of influence on a small minority of

members, and often give their proposals an unfair advantage on the floor (Aldrich 1989;

Riker 1980). If those members whose preferences or priorities are consistently ignored or

excluded become sufficiently numerous as to constitute a "frustrated majority", changing

the rules to force a redistribution of power may become an increasingly attractive--if not

a priority--option.

There are some very fundamental differences, however, between efforts to alter

internal rules and those to change public policy that support institutionalist expectations

that the former will consistently be far more problematic than the latter. Unlike policy

change, internal reform is inherently zero-sum; policy initiatives may be extensively

broadened or modified without necessarily undercutting the provisions or intent of the

original approach. Changes in internal rules or arrangements, however, are much more

likely to produce clear winners and losers and should hence provoke much greater

opposition that most proposals for policy change. Specifically, reform movements

should regularly encounter two considerable roadblocks to their success; the opposition

of the many incumbents who benefit from the existing distribution of power and the more

widespread hesitance of members to risk 'tried and tested' arrangements for unproven

and unfamiliar new structures or procedures.

In spite of the considerable risks, uncertainties and opposition that reform efforts

are widely expected to involve, major changes in internal rules and arrangements have

periodically occurred in Congress. This study uses one empirical case of such change to

address a range of broader questions related to congressional reform and its

consequences. The primary issues of interest are as follows; the kinds of factors that

convinced members to give up on the pursuit of their agenda goals through existing rules

and arrangements and to throw their collective weight behind structural or procedural

reform; whether these same factors also ensured the effective implementation of the

changes made; and the impact of subsequent developments on the new rules and

arrangements within their broader legislative context. The observable implications of the

individual-level and institutionalist approaches for such questions can best be empirically

evaluated through the consideration of each of following familiar sources of influence on

congressional politics and organization.

Three Dimensions of Reform

Existing studies suggest three dimensions or sets of factors that might be expected

to encourage or constrain congressional reform efforts according to the individual-level

and institutionalist perspectives described above. While it would be virtually impossible

to identify and categorize every single empirical source of pressure for or against reform

as individual-level or institutionalist, it is much more feasible to separate out and evaluate

the relative weight and direction of constituency, partisan and internal factors on issues of

congressional reform. Far from representing absolute or mutually exclusive categories,

these dimensions are used here only as analytical constructs as there is clearly

considerable overlap and interaction between them in an empirical setting. Taken

together, however, they capture the range of interests and pressures that might influence

the emergence and impact of reform movements. They also reflect the main categories of

the existing congressional literature.

This study evaluates the relative weight of the pressures for or against reform

across each of these three dimensions, and any changes or interactions that may have

occurred between them over time. Reform does not occur in vacuum, and the

endogeneity of congressional rules makes it reasonable to assume that the factors or

pressures that produced reform must persist in the period following its enactment for the

changes to endure. Extending the analysis of these three dimensions both backward into

the prereform period and forward, beyond the moment of reform should help illuminate

some of the more complex and dynamic aspects of internal reform and its consequences

that are often lost or understated in the existing literature.

Constituency considerations clearly provide the empirical foundation for

individual-level perspectives, though according to homogeneity-of-interest expectations

of party strength, they also have important implications for the partisan dimension. The

relevance of constituency considerations for issues of internal rules and arrangements,

however, are much less obvious than they are for questions of public policy. Yet as

reflected in the extent to which they encourage members to cooperate in pursuit of shared

policy goals, constituency influences are considered most likely to produce pressure for

congressional reform and the electoral connection also marks them as the most significant

or meaningful source of such support. Partisan factors may be additionally important in

helping create or intensify such pressure, but their independent influence is expected to

be both less powerful and clear-cut. Finally, institutionalist perspectives lead us to expect

that internal opposition to reform will be consistently high. Each dimension, however,

also contains influences and pressures that may both work for and against efforts to

secure congressional reform.


Research that has emphasized the goal-oriented behavior of individual members

has also tended to view the electoral connection as the dominant force in generating

organizational and procedural change (Aldrich 1995a; Dodd and Oppenheimer 1989b;

Rohde 1991). Although members are expected to possess variable combinations of goals

and ambitions (Schlesinger 1966; Fenno 1973), they are assumed to be preoccupied with

reelection as the one goal that must be fulfilled in order to facilitate the accomplishment

of all others (Mayhew 1974). Conditions in a member's constituency--or more

specifically, their reelection constituency--are therefore regarded as the key to

understanding their behavior and actions inside Congress.

If a particular proposal for internal reform were perceived as having significant

constituency implications for a majority of members, it would almost certainly succeed.

The electoral connection invokes the strongest incentives for members to respond and

threatens the ultimate sanction for those who do not. As described above, constituency

considerations seem most likely to generate support for internal reform during periods of

national crises or upheaval, such as the Great Depression or the Vietnam War and the

domestic unrest of 1960s. This is because such crises will often create a demand for

dramatic policy change to which long-standing internal rules or arrangements may be

unable to respond in a timely or effective manner (Binder 1997; Dodd 1986b). The broad

impact of the crisis on constituents across the country and the potential for an electoral

backlash if change is not forthcoming should produce the requisite support for any

internal reforms aimed at expediting passage of the new agenda.

Under conditions short of national crisis, however, most issues of internal reform

should be of little relevance in the electoral arena as they generally do not have the same

direct and tangible implications for constituents as policy outcomes. If a majority of

members find that the rules are obstructing the accomplishment of their common policy

goals then those members might be expected to support a package of reforms in order to

secure the enactment of their agenda. Yet their incentives to push through rules changes

should also be considerably weaker than in the policy-specific context. Members may be

rewarded (or punished) by constituents for their policy positions and activism (Arnold

1990) but the likelihood of blame or credit being assigned on questions of internal

congressional rules or procedures is rarely significant. Voters may hold their

representative to account for failing to channel a certain level of federal benefits and

resources into their district, but they are highly unlikely to have the same level of interest

or awareness on issues of internal rules or organization.

Finally, if constituency pressures for particularistic benefits were entirely

dominant and static over time, any deviation from a decentralized system of specialized

and semi-autonomous policy committees would be unlikely to occur. These

arrangements appear to maximize a member's influence over issues of greatest interest to

her constituents. If the distributive priorities that the electoral connection is assumed to

generate are both correct and constant, then sufficient support for reforms to establish

more centralized controls should always fail because they would diminish the ability of

individual members to secure particularistic benefits for their constituents.


The partisan dimension is broadly defined here as anything related to the two

major political parties; their performance and relevance in elections, their organizations

and leadership in government, the balance of power between them, and their collective

strength and activities in Congress. Most studies of the congressional parties conclude

that their independent influence within the legislature is limited, in particular by the ex

ante homogeneity of interests among members of the same party and the extent to which

those interests differ between the parties (Aldrich 1995a; Cooper and Brady 1981;

Cooper, Brady and Hurley 1977; Ripley 1967; Rohde 1991). In this respect, the partisan

influence on issues of internal reform seems closely connected to the constituency

considerations of the previous section.

When the level of agreement among members of each party is high and the

differences between them distinct, the numbers and cohesion of the majority party alone

may be sufficient to secure collectively preferred outcomes (Binder 1997). Yet the

majority party may also act to strengthen its governing coalition through a more strategic

allocation of key positions and other institutional resources (Cooper and Brady 1981;

Jones 1968; Kiewiet and McCubbins 1991; Cox and McCubbins 1993). It may even go

so far as to propose changes in existing rules, particularly if they are being used

aggressively by the minority party to obstruct passage of the majority party agenda and/

or to develop and promote their own alternative agenda (Binder 1997; Dodd 1986a).

Under the latter scenario, however, changes in congressional rules would be produced by

a defensive reaction to a perceived procedural and/ or political threat rather than by the

proactive pursuit of the majority party's own agenda goals. This suggests that partisan

incentives for reform may also be effected by such internal factors as the size and

cohesion of the majority and the activism of their minority opposition.

While in principle, at least, the majority party in Congress appears to possess the

numbers, the formal organizational capacity and the political interest to change internal

rules, it should also be significantly constrained in its ability to secure and implement

reforms for two main reasons. As previously noted, such changes require majority

support and so the party must first convince its members that the proposed changes will

secure the preferred policy outcomes without conferring excessive and unnecessary

power upon a few individuals at their expense. Historically, formal delegations of power

to party leaders have been tenuous if they have been made at all (Dodd and Oppenheimer

1989a). When party leaders have played an important role within the chamber, it has

usually been as a result of external factors or the skills or abilities of the individuals

leaders rather than to specific grants of institutional authority (Canon 1992; Jones 1968).

The second constraint on parties and partisan considerations producing a

successful reform movement is that if party-driven reforms are approved as a means to a

common policy ends (Cooper and Brady 1981; Rohde 1991), then once this agenda has

been enacted or the demand for it subsided, it stands to reason that rank-and-file support

for any rules changes made is also likely to diminish. Although reforms may increase the

level of centralized leadership or control within Congress, changes that are made

inevitably coexist with (and do not replace) the standing policy committees. Strong

parties and autonomous committees have always been opponents in a zero-sum battle for

congressional control; whenever one has increased its power it has been at the expense of

the other (Weingast and Marshall 1988; Gilligan and Krehbiel 1995). Yet historically,


centralized party leadership has proven to be far more difficult to sustain than a system of

strong and relatively autonomous committees.

Partisan factors, therefore, may periodically result in new rules that support more

centralized leadership, but this does not mean that members no longer value the district

and electoral benefits of the committee system. The diversity of district opinions and

interests contained within each of the parties has led their members to place a high

premium on freedom of individual action and loose party ties (Mayhew 1974, 99-101).

When centralized leadership begins to infringe upon individual behavior or expectations--

as it inevitably has appeared to do in the House--constituency considerations are likely to

encourage members to limit or otherwise curtail their power. Any formal rules changes

based on overtly partisan considerations therefore seem liable to be both temporary and

conditional, lasting only until the underlying agenda is enacted or the collective demand

for it has passed. Moreover, if members of each party represent districts with strongly

divergent, or even contradictory policy interests or priorities, partisan considerations

seem highly unlikely to produce any significant movement toward internal reform.


The internal dimension, for the purposes of this dissertation, is defined as

pressures or problems originating within Congress. This includes members' perceptions

of their collective capacity for action, evaluations of recent institutional performance,

support or opposition for the prevailing distribution of power, or a more general concern

with building or maintaining institutional influence or prestige. Some of these factors

may have a constituency aspect to them, but they are also expected to be strongly affected

by Fenno's second two sets of member goals; those of good public policy and power

within the House (Fenno 1973). While most internal considerations are expected to

militate against change, existing studies do suggest two primary sources of possible

support for reform; members' individual level 'quest for power' (Dodd 1977; 1986b) and

a more general sense of concern with institutional responsiveness to changing external

conditions (March and Olsen 1989) and the shifts that they produce in "the policy agenda

dominant among the nation's citizens" (Dodd 1986b, p.31).

As previously discussed, rules inevitably bestow a greater degree of power upon

certain members of the legislature than on others. If there were no positions of power or

leadership within Congress, no one person or group could control the agenda and chaos

would likely ensue. In order to provide for leadership and coordination, internal rules

will inevitably create "undemocratic" concentrations of power within Congress (Dodd

1986b; Aldrich 1989). Members excluded from these positions, however, are expected to

support new rules that give themselves a progressively greater share in that power. The

resulting organizational fragmentation will lead to policy immobilism and the growing

sense of crisis should serve to trigger recentralizing reforms (Dodd 1986b). This theory

of organizational cycles suggests that careerism and the quest for power are among the

most likely internal factors to create pressure for reform from within the institution.

Concern over the collective need to maintain institutional relevance and authority

in the face of shifting external conditions may also encourage members to make changes

to internal rules or structures. As March and Olsen (1989) contend, decisions about

institutional choice may valued for their symbolism as much as for their potential to

affect outcomes. By periodically supporting changes in the rules, members may seek to

convey the impression that their collective choice was actively determined by "planning,

thinking, analysis and the systematic use of information" and responsive to "the right

interests" (1989, 50).

Most internal pressures or influences, however, are expected to support stability

and continuity in rules and to discourage or minimize the likelihood of reform. While a

simple majority of members is all that is required to make changes in House rules,

significant reform has generally been limited to general jurisdictional reorganizations or

the addition or subtraction of various panels. Major innovation has been infrequent and

unusual. Institutionalist approaches cite this lack of fundamental change as evidence of

the inertial properties of established rules and structures, the cumulative nature of their

development, and their growing resistance to reform over time. According to this

perspective institutional development progresses along a certain 'path' from which it

becomes increasingly difficult and unlikely to deviate (Aldrich 1994; Binder 1997).

Path-dependent development is anticipated in virtually any large organization

where the conservative forces of established rules and norms should work strongly

against the successful introduction of new processes or structures. Rules and other

internal arrangements may be initially adopted in response to a certain set of external

conditions or problems, but if they become institutionalized they are expected to become

increasingly resistant to change and to persist "until the external demands for change are

fairly substantial" (March and Olsen 1989, 106; also Huntingdon 1965).

The stickiness of path-dependency is also expected to become more acute in

larger and more complex institutions, and especially those where "functions are internally

separated on some regular and explicit basis" (Polsby 1968, 145). The steady growth in

the size and complexity of the federal government since the New Deal combined with the

emergence of a strongly decentralized and specialized committee system and a careerist

emphasis on gaining and maintaining power are also expected to have intensified a

collective focus on "internal processes at the expense of external demands" (Polsby 1968,

166). Under such conditions, the level of pressure required to prompt reform is expected

to rise in proportion to the degree of institutionalization.

Even if changes are made, if leaders are unable to gain acceptance of them among

the rank-and-file, they may be discarded or ignored if deemed ineffective or overly

disruptive by those charged with implementing and upholding them (North 1990). In

order to endure, internal changes must be actively consolidated within the broader

organizational environment after they have been approved and put in place (Davidson

and Olesek 1976). House members, in particular, have historically been unwilling to

"consolidate" major reforms that would cause them to deviate from the developmental

path of the traditional committee system.


While the various aspects of each single dimension alone do not seem capable of

generating sufficient support and momentum for significant change, some combination of

the three most likely explains the occurrence and consequences of reform. The three

dimensions reflect the prevailing compartmentalization of the congressional literature and

provide a useful empirical framework for mapping out and evaluating the competing

pulls of expected individual-level and institutionalist pressures for and against internal

reform. The three dimensions are not presented as competing or even conflicting

explanations for reform; they are clearly interrelated and factors across each of the

different dimensions seem likely to play some role in the emergence of successful reform


The constituency and partisan dimensions, however, must be regarded as distinct

from the internal to the extent that they suggest a purposive, outcome-oriented intent to

reform that needs to be evaluated against observable consequences. If members'

decisions to support reform are based on certain expectations--to protect or facilitate

passage of a common agenda or to force a broader distribution of power among

members--it is important to compare these expectations with consequences, because what

seems to have been facilitated by reform is all too often assumed to have been "the ex

ante objective of the individuals involved" (Shepsle 1989, 140). It is quite conceivable

that new developments or problems before, during, or after congressional consideration

of reform, might cause what began as constituency demands for reform to generate

strongly partisan consequences or, equally, for ambitious partisan reforms to produce

only limited internal effects. If the intent of those instigating reform is not born out by its

consequences then the distinction needs to be made between the factors that produce or

create demand for reform and those that subsequently influence its effects.

As noted earlier, existing studies of reform have tended to emphasize one

particular set of factors over the other two. I use all three to evaluate expectations of

support for reform at the constituency and partisan dimensions against the strong

resistance to change expected from within the institution. The individual-level pressures

and considerations of the constituency and the partisan dimensions give the impression

that internal arrangements are regularly adjusted in response to members' shifting goals

and priorities. Internal factors and conditions, on the other hand, are expected to act as

largely as constraints on efforts to secure changes in the rules.

In this dissertation, I use the example of the 1974 budget reforms to explore how

these contradictory pressures play out in an empirical setting. If both constant external

pressures for reform and a steady buildup of internal resistance to change are present in

the contemporary Congress, why and when might we expect reform to occur? And what

are the prospects any changes made will be successfully integrated with pre-existing rules

and arrangements if internal opposition remains high? The purpose of this study is two-

fold; first, to explain and analyze the interaction of constituency, partisan and internal

pressures that led to reform and to evaluate their continuing influence on the new process

after 1974. Second, the broader intent is to facilitate some more generalizable

conclusions regarding the two principle research questions that inform this study; why

does Congress periodically enact major internal reforms in spite of an overwhelming

body of theoretical and empirical research that suggests it is extremely unlikely to do so?

And to what effect?

The Case of the 1974 Budget Reforms

There are several reasons why budget reform in the 1970s represents an

appropriate empirical case through which to explore the various questions and issues

raised in the above discussion of constituency, partisan and internal influences on the

occurrence and long-term impact of congressional reform. Although the CBICA of 1974

established a budget process and Committees in both chambers, the analysis here is

largely confined to the House. Its larger size and smaller member constituencies,

combined with its constitutionally-stipulated control over revenue bills and dominant role


in the appropriations process should serve to produce a stronger clash of individual-level

and institutional factors than might be found in the Senate. This clash should permit

some tentative conclusions to be drawn regarding the relative strength of each set of

factors and their respective influences through the different stages of reform.

Although there was no congressional budget process per se prior to 1975, the

manner in which the House had long handled taxing and spending decisions seemed a

particularly unlikely target for reform as these arrangements appeared to be both deeply

entrenched within the institution and electorally advantageous for members of both

parties. In the century following the Civil War, the House had become increasingly

preoccupied with issues of federal resource allocation and distribution. As it did so, a

certain set of rules and norms became deeply ingrained among its committees and in an

informal system of budgeting that was recentralized in the House Appropriations

Committee in 1920 (Fenno 1966; Stewart 1989; Wildavsky 1964). Operating without an

overall budget, Congress would arrive at its spending total for the year simply by adding

up the amounts that had been approved by the various Appropriations subcommittees for

their separate jurisdictions. Fiscal decision making was portrayed as an inclusionary and

highly consensual system of distributive universalism (Brady and Morgan 1987; Fenno

1966; Ferejohn 1974; Fiorina 1977; Ripley and Franklin 1980; Wildavsky 1964, 1974).

During this period, norms of committee specialization, autonomy, reciprocity and

decentralization were strengthened as members increasingly viewed the delivery of

divisible policy benefits to their constituents as the key to their electoral security

(Mayhew 1974; Fenno 1978). This system was extraordinarily popular among

incumbents who delivered concentrated benefits to constituents while dispersing the costs

across the general population, and avoided or postponed difficult or politically risky

decisions while maximizing the likelihood of their own reelection (Fiorina 1981;

Mayhew 1974; Weingast 1979; Wilson 1980).

Under such conditions, the emergence of a "frustrated majority" with both the

numbers and the incentive to change the rules seemed unlikely. Members were supposed

to be primarily concerned with their own reelection and if the flow of federal benefits and

services to their districts did indeed serve to increase the electoral security of most

members then they would have had little reason to support reform. Changes to existing

rules or arrangements seemed likely to only introduce risk and uncertainty to a system

that had exhibited very little of either. Furthermore, the long period of committee

government and highly consensual fiscal policy making had all but eliminated any

meaningful role or responsibility for the parties in Congress, who at that point in time,

did not seem capable of generating and sustaining the considerable momentum required

to overcome internal resistance and enact major internal reforms.

Finally, this prereform system of budgetary decision making was also consistent

with the historical preference of members for decentralized committee government. As

many scholars have observed, the single member district basis of representation and the

traditionally weak congressional parties give members no incentives to pay any attention

to anyone other than those citizens who directly elected them. This devotion of members

to district interests and opinions above all else has generally predisposed the House

toward the universalistic rules and norms of decentralized committee government (see

Fiorina 1977; Lowi 1979; Price 1985).

It is also significant that the 1974 CBICA was the most recent and substantial

change in internal rules and arrangements. This meant that the forces of

institutionalization-that are generally associated with strong internal resistance to

change-should have been at a maximum. The timing of these reforms makes them a

good test of institutionalist expectations that the constraining influence of preexisting

arrangements on reform is not constant over time but increases with the scale and

complexity of governmental activities and with the size and professionalization of its

staff and members.

The selection of the 1974 budget reforms was also influenced by the fact that the

early 1970s was also a period in which the political pressures and policy problems caused

by shifting external conditions were unusually strong throughout much of the country.

This also allows for the possibility that internal resistance to reform--however

substantial--may simply dissolve in the face of significant and persistent external

pressures and crises.

In short, the changes made by the 1974 CBICA offer an ideal empirical example

through which to assess the various and often contradictory expectations of constituency,

partisan and internal influences on congressional reform and its consequences. While it

is clear that no single dimension can fully account for the success of these--or any other

major reforms--the goal is to shed some light upon the relative significance of each set of

influences and interactions between them, in both generating support for reform and in

determining its long-term impact on the institution as a whole.


The following sections are organized around an empirical examination of the

stages of congressional budget reform as it was considered, enacted, implemented and

consolidated in the U.S. House of Representatives. As will be shown in the following

chapters, the 1974 reforms were not enacted by a cohesive majority in their proactive

pursuit of common agenda goals, but instead were the product of short-term political

pressures on a deeply divided majority party. A particular combination of constituency,

partisan and internal factors led to the enactment of reform in 1974, but the compromises

its passage required, combined with major shifts in political and economic conditions

soon after reform, produced institutional consequences that had generally not been

anticipated by members who had supported it in 1973. The central thesis is that in the

case of the 1974 Budget Act, the majority party inadvertently set in place a process that

they had neither the political will nor the institutional capability to control.

Consequently, the introduction of this process went on to play an important--and largely

unexpected--role in the subsequent disruption of the largely bipartisan status quo

arrangements by helping to amplify and sustain partisan cleavages within the chamber

after 1974.

This study utilizes a variety of qualitative and quantitative data related to the

enactment and implementation of the budget process and Committee in the House. Roll

call votes are analyzed in the first section to examine how the reform coalition evolved

between when the issue first made it on to the congressional agenda in October 1972 and

its final approval by the House in December 1973.


Quantitative data on HBC membership characteristics and patterns committee and

floor amendment activity and final passage votes are presented for the years following

1974. As noted at the beginning of this chapter, roll call data after 1982 are limited use

as party explains all the variance and the number of votes--on the floor, in particular--

drops sharply to less than five a year. Comparisons of behavior and operations on the

HBC are also made with the House as a whole as well as with the House Appropriations

Committee (HAC), the panel whose jurisdiction was most affected by the new process.

These quantitative data are supplemented throughout with qualitative evidence gathered

from congressional records and reports, journalistic sources and over 40 original in-depth

interviews with past and present members of Congress, and personal and committee staff.

The interviews were conducted between August 1997 and September 1999. Most

were done on a face-to-face basis in Washington D.C. though phone interviews were

relied upon in cases where the individual no longer maintained an office in the D.C. area.

The interviews were semi-structured though their length and scope varied a great deal

according to how much each individual had to say about the process. Where possible,

personal recollections were cross-checked against those of other interviewees, secondary

sources and/ or archival material. The experience of the interviewees extended from well

before the enactment of reform (several had first been elected in the early 1960s) through

the late 1990s (see Appendix B).

Chapter 2 examines how and why budget reform finally reappeared on the

congressional agenda at the end of 1972, in spite of the fact that most members continued

to reap the material and electoral benefits of the distributive status quo arrangements.

Chapter 3 focuses on the internal reaction to the first comprehensive budget reform

proposal after it was introduced in bill form in April 1973. A series of three critical floor

votes related to the reassertion of congressional control over the budget are analyzed to

show how the reform coalition evolved in the year preceding House approval of the

CBICA. This chapter highlights the critical influence of the lengthy and highly-charged

internal divisions and negotiations over the reform bill that would ultimately be signed

into law.

The chapters dealing with the implementation and consolidation of the CBICA

are presented in a chronological order that emphasizes key moments in its evolution and

development in the House. Chapter 4 deals with the early efforts of House Democrats to

implement the process in the years following 1974. This required the majority party to

fight a war on two fronts; an internal struggle against senior members of their own party

who would have liked nothing better than to see the new process fail, as well as an

ideological battle against conservatives of both parties who immediately and consistently

condemned House budget resolutions for the liberal policies and priorities they espoused.

Chapter 5 describes how the external political and economic pressures of the

times had led to increased leadership intervention in the process by 1979 and to efforts to

strengthen its precarious internal position the following year. It also explains how the

political and procedural shocks of the 1981 and 1982 conservative coalition budgets

forced Democrats to complete their consolidation of the process within the chamber on a

partisan basis.

The partisan consolidation of the process is described in depth in Chapter 6. After

1982, the resolution effectively ceased to be a committee-based responsibility and was

consolidated within the institution as a purely partisan process. This, however, did little


to bridge the gap between the resolution and its legislative implementation that, in

tandem with rising deficits, continued to cause severe problems for the process through

the remainder of the decade. Chapter 7 examines the changing role and influence of the

process in the 1990s when it was briefly revitalized by both parties in their efforts to

significantly alter policy outcomes in the wake of their respective electoral triumphs.

Finally, Chapter 8 summarizes the findings of the empirical inquiry and discusses the

more general conclusions regarding the institutional roots and consequences of

congressional reform suggested by this particular case.


In the following two chapters I examine the key events leading up to the

Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act (CBICA) of 1974 and assess the

relative significance of each of the three dimensions discussed in Chapter 1. There were

two distinct stages on the congressional road to reform; the first was for a majority of

members to accept that there was a need for reform, and the second, for them to come up

with a proposal that could prevail on the floor. In this chapter I examine the first stage

and focus on questions of motivation, intent and expectations. I identify the main

pressures and influences across each of the three dimensions and assess their relative

weight in convincing members to support budgetary reform at this particular point in


Chapter 3 deals with the second stage on the road to reform and explains how the

extensive efforts that were made to come up with a compromise measure produced the

key provisions of the bill that would ultimately be signed into law by President Nixon in

1974. While most accounts of the reforms emphasize the significance of the first stage, I

argue that the events and heated disagreements of the second exerted a critical influence,

not only on the reform bill, but also on its long-term political and institutional


As far as the first stage is concerned, however, the evidence considered here

suggests that internal resistance remained high--as anticipated by the institutionalist

perspectives discussed in the previous chapter--through much of 1972. As Nixon stepped

up his criticism of existing arrangements and his calls for reform, the issue became an

overtly partisan one in spite of its ostensibly organizational nature. This early pressure

from the White House decisively propelled Congress through the first and into the second

stage of reform, a transition marked by the establishment of the Joint Study Committee

(JSC) on Budget Control in October of 1972. Presidential pressure had this effect because

it raised the possibility of electoral repercussions for continued congressional inaction in

a sufficient number of districts to temporarily overcome internal resistance to the issue

and force it onto the congressional agenda. With elections less than three weeks away

and concern over unchecked government spending running high, a popular president

effectively maneuvered Congress into a position where most members felt they simply

could not avoid the issue any longer.

I argue that without the highly critical and relentless pressure from the White

House, members would never have agreed to such sweeping changes as were eventually

enacted under the 1974 Act. Although the partisan tensions with the White House

became less important than divisions among House Democrats after October 1972, they

remained a powerful reminder to Democrats throughout 1973 as to why it was so

important that they get a budget reform package through the Congress. The early

pressure from Nixon forced the issue onto the congressional agenda and helped push

Congress into making changes that were essentially antagonistic to the interests of

the titular majority and strongly supported by their partisan and ideological opponents.

Partisan pressure from the White House may have been decisive in terms of

getting the issue onto the congressional agenda, but once there, strong internal resistance

quickly enveloped the issue again, and muddied both the intent and direction of the

movement toward budget reform. As Congress moved into the second stage of reform--

that of formulating a proposal that could prevail on the floor--the same problems that had

kept the issue off the agenda for so long in the past resurfaced with a vengeance. The

temporary and indirect intervention of constituency factors in October 1972 had left the

tensions between partisan pressures for reform and internal disincentives for change

intact, and these tensions returned to consume congressional consideration of budgetary

reform through much of 1973, and came close to derailing the process altogether.

The Three Dimensions and Budgetary Reform

The events and developments that occurred as Congress progressed through both

stages of reform in 1972-73 demonstrate how and why the various partisan, internal, and

constituency pressures that got reform on the congressional agenda interacted to cause the

bill to take the shape it ultimately did. If the case of budget reform is examined from the

perspective of the three dimensions--the constituency, the partisan, and the internal--

factors across all three dimensions certainly contributed to the demand for reform, but

strong countervailing pressures were also present within each.

On the constituency dimension, few districts had escaped the effects of the

economic downturn of the early 1970s. By the summer of 1972, the proportion of the

public that identified inflation and the high cost of living as "the most important problem

facing this country today" was roughly equal to those that named Vietnam (Gallup

1978). For all members of Congress, the recession had forced the difficult problems of

inflation and unemployment to the forefront of the national agenda--issues that have long

been regarded as among the most potent politically as they touch the everyday lives of

huge numbers of voters in a way that very few others can or do. Such conditions put

tremendous pressure on politicians to secure increased levels of program or benefit

funding to their districts in order to mitigate the economic hardship being suffered, to

show their constituents that they care about their plight, and to portray themselves as

doing everything they can to generally get the economy back on track.

Yet according to individual-level perspectives, the problem of inflation and other

economic issues might also have served to undermine confidence that the unrestrained

pursuit of district benefits represented the same risk-free route to reelection that it had

long been assumed to be. Prior to the 1970s, a prolonged period of economic growth

combined with the broad and dominant New Deal coalition had all but removed serious

constraints on the pursuit of particularistic benefits; the resources were available and

there was overwhelming public support and demand for the funding and provision of a

wide array of policy programs and initiatives (for example, Key 1958).

After 1970, however, growing popular concern about the economy and high

levels of government spending, along with the steady stream of warnings from

conservative politicians and economists about the dangers posed by excessive

governmental spending to the economy, may have suggested to some members that the

interests of their constituents were no longer as straightforward or as unidimensional as

had been previously supposed. This may have encouraged members from certain

districts or areas to support reform efforts as a way of emphasizing interests or

priorities other than those of local-level spending. New pressures for constraint clearly

conflicted with a more entrenched demand for district-level benefits; even members who

most strongly felt the former scarcely sought to eliminate or even significantly disrupt

arrangements that catered to the latter.

From the constituency perspective, then, budget reform may have presented

members with the opportunity to show their support for efforts to constrain governmental

spending in order to minimize further damage to the national economy. Yet at the same

time, most members should have been equally, if not more, mindful of the need to protect

programs and services for which there was high demand in their districts. It seems likely

that changing district-level conditions may have created some pressure for reform in

certain constituencies, but this pressure may often have been countered in many cases by

the continued appeal of the electoral benefits available under existing arrangements.

The pressure for governmental action (to either constrain spending or increase

countercyclical aid) that is assumed to follow from adverse economic conditions should

also exacerbate partisan and/ or ideological divisions among members. If worsening

conditions do create pressure for positive governmental action then members on both

sides of the political spectrum should cooperate more closely with their ideological allies

(in pursuit of shared policy goals) and increasingly find their efforts obstructed by their

ideological opponents. In the context of the 1970s, this meant that liberal members

became more ardent in their efforts to secure relief for poor and low-income constituents

whereas conservative members became more concerned with fighting inflation--in

particular by constraining government spending. Depending on the range of economic

interests at the district-level, therefore, constituency conditions should have pushed

members more clearly to one side of the ideological spectrum or the other.

Yet a member's ideology in the 1970s did not necessarily 'push' that member

closer to mainstream opinion in their party, particularly in the case of many conservative

southern Democrats for whom the issue of budgetary reform appeared particularly

problematic. Republicans had long been recognized as the party of "economy and budget

reduction and cutbacks in the bureaucracy" (Fenno 1966, p.244), and insofar as a

comprehensive new budget process was expected to constrain the free-spending

committees, reform seemed very much "in line with their general ideology"-as one

Republican member put it.2 While most Republicans supported congressional budget

reform based on the expectation that it would constrain spending, Democrats struggled

with the multiple and contradictory positions evident among their members.

Given its strongly conservative undercurrent, the issue of budget reform might

have been expected to divide congressional Democrats along ideological lines.

Ideological tensions within the party had already been strained to new heights by the civil

rights movement and the Vietnam war in the 1960s, and the rise of deficits and general

economic problems of the early 1970s represented another major issue on which the two

sides were sharply divided. Many liberal Democrats had supported the Great Society's

dramatic expansion of federal programs and commitments only a few years previously

and saw demands for spending constraint/ budgetary reform as threats to those programs.

This resistance was likely reinforced at the district level as traditional Democratic

clientele groups were also most likely to have been hit the hardest by the recession,

creating pressure for more, not less, countercyclical aid.

In 1972-73, however, significant numbers of House Democrats were still

southern conservatives, and these members often sided with their Republican colleagues

to deny the liberals a working majority in the House. This conservative coalition had

bounced back from its lows of 1965-66 and appeared stronger than ever, winning a full

79 percent of the votes on which it appeared in the House in both 1971 and 1972.3 Given

the dominance of the coalition in the House in the early 1970s, it seemed as if the

conservatives should have been able to shut out the liberals and dominate the debate over,

and ultimately, the shape of congressional budget reform.

Yet if the reform movement in Congress had been dominated by the conservative

coalition, it would have unquestionably produced a far tighter process and more powerful

new committees than it eventually did. One of the primary reasons why this did not

come to pass was that conservative southern Democrats were also over-represented

among the party's most senior members, many of whom held powerful committee chair

positions and who stood to lose the most under any major reforms. The Democratic

leadership had previously considered including a budget process as part of the Legislative

Reorganization Act of 1970, but the strength of the opposition it was expected to

generate--from the other committees whose autonomy would be constrained and, in

particular, from the committee chairmen whose power would be reduced--caused party

leaders to shelve the idea.4

Budget reform--again to the extent that it was expected or intended to constrain

spending--should also have divided Democrats along generational lines as the more

junior Democrats tended to be the most liberal. To many of these members budget reform

represented an opportunity to break up the conservative oligarchy that had controlled the

key House Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees for so long. Ever since

the formation of the Democratic Study Group (DSG) in 1959, the liberal faction had been

increasing in numbers and influence and had become more willing to take on some of the

most conservative southern chairmen who opposed them. In many respects, then, budget

reform seemed an ideal vehicle for the liberal cause as a new committee could potentially

undercut the money committees that were then stacked with conservative southerners.

While the most of the liberals seemed strangely unaware of the possibility that

superimposing a comprehensive new process over a fragmented, decentralized committee

system might strengthen the hand of their conservative opponents, some did perceive

long-term partisan benefits to reform. David Obey, in particular, was cited by several

interviewees as having recognized that the process would be inherently partisan and

could not operate on the same consensual basis as the rest of the committee system. As

one senior staff person explained, he "understood and argued that the nature of the

process was to bring forth the party's budget, and that it could not be a bipartisan

process." 5 This notion that it would have to be "the party's budget", however, did not

seem to discourage the deeply divided Democrats from pushing reform through the


Part of the reason that the partisan and ideological implications of a centralized

budget process were not central in the prereform debate was that a group of influential

members framed budget reform as an organizational or internal issue. This group was

referred to by various interviewees as consisting of "good-government types" on both

sides of the aisle. Liberal Richard Bolling (D-Mo) and the more conservative Bemie Sisk

(D-Ca.) seemed to fall into this category--as did their Rules Committee colleague John

Anderson, who described his support for budget reform as motivated by the desire to

improve institutional performance through the establishment of a more "rational, orderly"


While a great deal of support for budget reform was based on similar

organizational concerns, liberals and conservatives alike also came to favor reform based

on their expectations regarding its substantive, though indirect, policy implications for

their constituents and clientele groups. While conservatives expected the new process to

constrain spending, many liberals hoped that a comprehensive new process would

become a forum through which they could better present arguments in support of their

spending priorities as well as bring greater public and congressional scrutiny to bear on

the tax side of the budgetary equation.7

Although conservative Democrats generally wanted to see spending constrained

as much as their Republican peers, many did not support budget reform as the means to

that end, and it had been their institutional power that had kept the issue off the

congressional agenda in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Seniority as the singular criteria

for advancement had been firmly entrenched for decades, and those who had risen to

pinnacles of the committee system had both the power and the electoral security to mount

a rigorous defense of status quo arrangements. Nowhere was this more true than in the

case of the "money" committees--the House Appropriations and Ways and Means

Committees--which had dominated the House since the 1920s through their

comprehensive control of fiscal policy. Prior to reform, these members quite clearly

benefited from an "undemocratic concentration of power" (Aldrich 1989) that they had

accrued under existing House rules.

The preferred outcome of most money committee members with respect to

budgetary reform was little or modest change in existing arrangements. Appropriators

generally favored efforts to control the "backdoor" spending practices that had become

increasingly common in the years prior to reform, and with good reason; as HAC

chairman George Mahon never tired of pointing out, his Committee could not be held

responsible for higher levels of federal spending as every year for the past 20 years, they

appropriated less than the president's request "without exception" (quoted in CQWR,

February 10, 1973, p.289).

Few members denied the need for more detailed and independent information-

gathering and greater coordination between committees and individual members on all

aspects of budgetary policy, but this did not necessarily translate into support for any

major new measures or processes. As appropriator Neal Smith (D-Iowa) explained, the

money committees originally conceived of budget reform as little more than requiring

regularized joint meetings between their members:

The idea was that Ways and Means and Appropriations were pretty much
acquainted with the needs in their particular areas--if you had to raise
money, where it might come from, and what the needs were going to be
for Appropriations... the idea to start with was that the two would get
together and talk these things out early before they marked up their bills.8

Apprehension about the proposed Budget Committees was widespread within the

House in 1973. Aaron Wildavsky expressed a commonly-held view when he wrote in

that coordination in this context was another word for coercion and that a new budget

committee would inevitably weaken the autonomy of all the other standing committees

(Wildavsky 1974, p.152-153). Such fears, however, seemed disproportionately

concentrated among appropriators, whose control of spending was most likely to be

impinged upon by such a committee. Throughout 1973, senior appropriator Jamie

Whitten (D-Miss) regularly declared that no-one would be setting up a "super-duper"

committee that would take over everything (CQWR, July 21, 1973, p.1991). Fellow

appropriator Tom Bevill (D-Ala.) also recalled being singularly unimpressed by the

proposal of new committees "I felt like Appropriations was the most qualified to handle it

[and that] we never accomplished anything by setting up a Budget Committee."9 Ways

and Means Committee member James Corman (D-Ca.) recalled a similar lack of

enthusiasm for the proposed changes based on his feeling that it "would hurt the system"

and make decision-making harder by introducing a "whole new layer of jurisdiction" run

by less experienced members.10

The committee 'barons' at this time were still very powerful and none seemed

ready to voluntarily weaken their own positions by ceding power or authority to some

new, centralized "super-committee" with far-ranging responsibility for devising and

implementing a congressional budget. Like Smith and Bevill, many of the chairmen and

money committee members favored minor changes within the existing congressional

framework and believed that an entirely new process and committee were neither

warranted nor workable. Furthermore, their opposition should have presented a major

obstacle as these members were key players in the House, controlling access and

outcomes on taxing and spending issues, as well as--in the case of Democratic Ways and

Means members--to committee assignments. Their combined influence had helped sink

the previous attempt to establish a legislative budget under the 1946 Legislative

Reorganization Act and had successfully kept similar proposals off the agenda as recently

as 1970.

In sum, the three sets of factors described above--the constituency, and

partisan and the internal--collectively suggested only stalemate on the issue of

congressional budgetary reform in the early 1970s. The money committees and the

committee chairmen carefully guarded their considerable institutional power, and none of

the various factions that favored reform seemed large or stable enough to guide their

proposal through the legislative process and into law. Yet some significant support for

reform did emerge within the institution in the early 1970s, as the long-standing system

under which Congress handled its budgetary responsibilities came under increasing levels

of duress that facilitated the completion of the first stage of reform--recognition of the

need for change--in spite of the deep divisions that remained over the exact form that the

reforms should take.

Budgeting in the Prereform House

The HAC has long been considered the engine that drives congressional

budgetary decision-making. Since its creation in 1865, virtually every member of the

House has had a strong interest in its activities, most often in terms of making sure their

districts received a steady and substantial share of federal largess (Fenno 1966). Many

scholars have observed how the narrow geographic basis of representation in the House

provides a steady upward pressure on spending with no obvious political or institutional

incentives for constraint.1 Yet if restraint was not induced by electoral pressures,

members had long supported efforts to encourage it from within the institution. For

almost half a century prior to reform the HAC consistently scaled back spending requests

or authorizations through what became known as their "guardianship of the Treasury"


In the decades preceding reform, the HAC had actively and consciously

sought to absorb, aggregate, and constrain the claims of 435 members and their

constituents on the resources of the federal government. The tendency of Appropriators

to specialize in areas in which they had a strong personal or constituency interest

inevitably exerted some upward pressure on spending, but in the prereform era the

Committee leadership went to great lengths to minimize this effect, in part by sticking

closely to the requests of the authorizing committees, in part by constantly and

aggressively promoting a norm of constraint among its members, but also by appointing

individuals to subcommittees who had no apparent interest in or connection to the

jurisdiction in question (Fenno 1966). Discretionary spending still grew steadily during

this era but probably not as fast as it would have done absent the 'guardianship' efforts of

the HAC. As Fenno explained, the Committee performed an important function for the

institution as a whole, through its guardianship role, which at the same time, allowed it

to consolidate and entrench its own power and authority within the House.

This guardianship role had implications for the entire chamber; it set norms and

parameters for other committees in terms of their behavior and responsibilities. For

example, as appropriator Elford Cederberg (R-Mich.) explained, authorizing committees

routinely scored political points with their various constituency and clientele groups by

requesting overly generous levels of funding, secure in the knowledge that "the

Appropriations Committee will take care of it anyway."13 Appropriators, for their part,

consistently approved funding at levels slightly below the amount requested by the

authorizing committees, and the more they did so, the more routine it became for

authorizers to inflate their requests, and the more dependent they became on

appropriators to scale these back.

In performing their guardianship role, the HAC subcommittees and the 'cardinals'

who chaired them operated in ways that maximized and protected their power in the

House. Realizing their extraordinary influence over spending decisions, the

subcommittees tended to close ranks and report legislation unanimously in order to

minimize opposition both in the full Committee and on the floor. In the House, all

committees of jurisdiction are advantaged in taking their bills to the floor on account of

their members' access to meetings, information and expertise, but a unified Committee

should be particularly difficult to defeat as it offers no grounds for opposition to

committee outsiders. It also minimizes opposition by strengthening appeals to the

principles of specialization, deference and reciprocity on which the entire committee

system rests; if a committee of experts can reach unanimous agreement on action within

their policy area then these principles should encourage non-Committee members defer

to their judgment. In the prereform years, Appropriations subcommittees consistently

reported bills with the unanimous support of their members and at the full committee

level, members generally respected norms of deference and reciprocity and reported

subcommittee bills to the floor unchanged.

At both the subcommittee and full committee stage of the process, panel unity

was critical in protecting the Committee's bills on the floor as well as its considerable

power and prestige within the chamber. The Committee's jurisdiction made its work

extraordinarily important to most non-Committee members, and few were expected to

risk support for future requests by organizing or supporting opposition to Committee

recommendations on the floor. This set of arrangements generally minimized

political conflict on Appropriations and the high levels of consensus left the parties with

little role or function in this critical area of congressional decision making.

Although Appropriations only controls the spending side of fiscal policy, it was

this side that dominated congressional decision making throughout the prereform era.

Then, as now, the House Ways and Means Committee (HWMC) handled the revenue

side of congressional budgetary process, though its role was not as central as that of

Appropriations. The HWMC has never been required to make decisions on the tax code

every single year, and prior to reform it was often much more preoccupied with its power

to make committee appointments and frequently reported no substantive tax legislation.14

Furthermore, the post-war economic boom of the decades prior to reform meant that the

nation's revenue base grew steadily with few major changes to the tax code. When it did

act, the Committee was considerably less consensual in its operations than

Appropriations, but a norm of "constrained partisanship" tended to dominate its

proceedings (Manley 1970).

The restrained partisanship norm of the prereform Ways and Means Committee

was based upon the same rationale that promoted consensus-building and unanimity on

HAC; the panel's broad jurisdiction gave it a tremendous amount of power within the

chamber, but this power had to be guarded and exercised carefully. The far-reaching

responsibilities that made both committees powerful also made them very wary of any

behavior or actions on their part that might make them vulnerable as they take their bill to

the floor. For as Fenno explained, "in the accumulation of House prestige and influence,

nothing succeeds like success and nothing is so damaging as egregious or repeated

failure." (1966, p.416)

Although the HAC achieved a much higher degree of unity in reporting its

legislation to the floor, members of the HWMC also regularly worked together prior to

final committee votes for many of the same reasons. Both committees benefited from the

privacy of closed meetings that kept information from nonmembers and prevented them

from exploiting committee points of contention on the floor. Most Ways and Means bills

were further protected by closed rules on the floor 15 but of course these rules required the

approval of the House which could be withdrawn--as it subsequently was--if members

became sufficiently unhappy with the legislation being reported by the committee.

With respect to both the HAC, the HWMC and the authorizing committees then,

the norms, rules and procedures of the prereform budgetary system in the House

effectively limited and restrained political conflict, both in committee and on the floor.16

For the money committees, the broad and central nature of their respective jurisdictions

combined with norms of closed committee meetings, regular bipartisan cooperation

between their members and chamber-wide acceptance of norms of specialization,

reciprocity and deference helped minimize conflict on HAC and keep it low on HWMC.

This was a system based on internal incentives related to the demand for district level

benefits and the accumulation of personal power within the chamber, and sustained by

the external conditions of strong economic growth and a broad (New Deal) political

consensus. The pattern of behavior on these committees was broken periodically, most

significantly during periods of recession or when Republicans controlled the House in the

mid-late 1940s,17 but generally prevailed in the Congress in the years after 1945. By the

early 1970s, however, a series of critical internal and external developments had led

an increasing number of members to question the wisdom of continuing to deal with

budgetary issues in this manner.

Stresses on the System, 1967-72

By the beginning of the 1970s, the system described above had come under

growing pressure across all three dimensions, much of which was attributable to sharp

increases in federal spending after 1964 produced by the dual stresses of Johnson's

ambitious Great Society domestic programs and escalating American involvement in

Vietnam. Politically, these two issues reinforced the ideological divisions within the

Democratic party that had been reopened over the civil rights movement, but their

budgetary implications also marked the emergence of another difficult and enduring

issue-that of annual budget deficits and what to do about them-and one that finally

destabilized the cooperative system of budgeting described above. Internally, the

increased use of "backdoor" spending channels by liberal Democrats to get around the

conservative Appropriations Committee was indicative of the mounting pressure on the

prereform system.

After posting annual increases in the 5 percent range through the early part of the

decade, total discretionary spending shot up by an average of 15 percent per year between

fiscal year (FY) 1966 and 1968, leaping from $77.8 to $117.9 billion by FY 1968. This

1968 total represented 13.6 percent of GDP, and a high that has never been exceeded.18

Much of this increase represented spending on Great Society programs, many of which

had been strongly opposed by conservatives of both parties. The large liberal class of

1964 had weakened the hold of the conservative coalition long enough for these

programs to pass, but after almost half of these freshmen were defeated in 1966, the

Democratic majority in the House was reduced to its lowest level in a decade.19

This more modest majority returned effective control to the conservatives who

remained deeply opposed to much of the Great Society legislation and were committed to

reversing or scaling back many of its provisions. John Anderson (R-Ill.) described a

conservative backlash to the Great Society and its "Democratic emphasis on the

redistribution of wealth" in terms of a renewal of conservative beliefs in "the idea that tax

less and spend less and you will have a healthier economy and that one tide will lift all

boats.."20 The fallout from the Great Society seemed only to unify the resolve of

congressional Republicans at the same time as it added to tensions among Democrats.

The 'guns and butter' commitments of the Johnson administration made it

progressively more difficult for the HAC to continue to internalize the conflicting

spending and economy pressures that they had managed for so long. The steady growth

of the liberal wing of the party-that tended to favor high levels of domestic spending-after

1959 had eroded rank-and-file support for the Committee's essentially conservative

guardianship role, and as Fenno (1966) had observed, that role could not long be

sustained without it. The change of leadership from old-school conservative Clarence

Cannon of Missouri, who had basically ignored the liberals and ruled his committee with

an iron fist, to the more "cooperative" George Mahon of Texas in 1965 seemed to usher

in a new, more liberal era on the Committee. In many ways, however, Mahon's style

represented more of an attempted-and overdue-correction than any major or radical

innovation. By working more closely with party leaders, Mahon may have temporarily

protected his committee by neutralizing the inclination of non-HAC members to support

wholesale reform, but there was only so much he could do to relieve the mounting

pressures on the committee.



-0.1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

87th 88th 89th 90th 91st 92nd 93rd

--Republican Appropriators "Other Republicans ---Democratic Appropriators O Other Democrats

Figure 2-1: Median D-Nominate Scores for House Appropriations Committee members
and non-members, by Party, 1961-73

Figure 1 uses median D-Nominate scores21 to compare the ideological center of

Appropriations Democrats with that of the rest of the party, and includes the equivalent

indicators for Committee Republicans and their Conference. The ideological distance

between Democratic Appropriations members and nonmembers remained virtually

unchanged narrowed between the 88th and the 89th Congresses, Cannon's last and

Mahon's first as chair, respectively. But as the larger gaps for the 90th and the 91st

Congresses suggests, Mahon's leadership style could not change the fact that his

Committee was much more conservative than non-Committee Democrats and this

distance peaked during the 90th Congress, the one after Mahon assumed the HAC


At the same time as the distance between the Democratic House Appropriations

Committee contingent and their party peaked during the 90th and the 91st Congresses

(1967-71), Committee Republicans began a path of near-perfect convergence with non-

Committee members of their party. It is important to note that the biggest shift on the

Democratic side seems to have had very little to do with membership turnover- the

Committee was more conservative relative to other House Democrats in 1967 in spite of

the fact that all but 3 of the 11 new members appointed in 1965 returned, and only 2 new

appointments were made. Instead, this telling shift likely reflected the impact of the 1964

and 1966 elections on the party rank-and-file, a comparatively smaller and less ambitious

legislative agenda in the years that followed the Great Society, as well as HAC efforts to

maintain its guardianship role by constraining the continued increases in spending sought

by its party's more liberal mainstream.

The Committee membership was a relatively constant factor in this otherwise

combustible mix. When Johnson's Great Society programs sailed through the Congress

in the wake of the 1964 elections, many conservative members of the HAC likely had

strong reservations about pushing spending to such high levels but must have also

realized that were clearly outnumbered. Faced with such conditions, it was not part of the

Committee's culture (as it had been on the Rules Committee under Colmer, for example)

to blatantly obstruct the will of the House. They went along with the 1965-66, agenda

but as the tide turned against Johnson and the Democrats in 1966, the Committee seemed

to simply revert to its traditionally more conservative guardianship role, in spite of

its change in leadership.

In this manner, the deepening of the long-standing ideological divide among

House Democrats had significant structural implications, primarily by weakening rank-

and-file support for the guardianship role of the HAC without establishing any new

institutional rules or mechanisms to take their place. The HAC's struggle to constrain

spending culminated in the late 1960s with a series of annual attempts to impose overall

ceilings on spending that were enacted but not adhered to. These actions clearly reflected

concern among some members about the widening gap between revenues and

expenditures--which showed no signs of abating--but also a clear lack of political will or

consensus regarding what should be done.22 The fact that members limited themselves to

such short-term fixes reflected their deep-seated unwillingness to confront the longer-

term implications of the fragmented and piecemeal fashion in which Congress considered

the component parts of the federal budget.

As the Committee sought to return to its guardianship role after the heavy liberal

losses of 1966, many of the more liberal authorizers that remained found and exploited

ever more creative ways to bypass the appropriations process. Various forms of

"backdoor spending" had been around for a long time,23 but the overall proportion of

federal funds allocated through such channels had risen steadily through the late 1960s

and into the early 1970s. Entitlements and other mandatory spending (i.e., that not

subject to the annual appropriations process) totaled less than half of discretionary

spending in FY 1962, but the two categories were fast approaching parity ten years later,

and mandatory spending finally surpassed the discretionary total in FY 1975. This

dramatic increase in spending through channels other than the HAC created

tremendous internal pressures and tensions at precisely the time that the impact of

external electoral and economic changes were being brought to bear on the institution.

By 1970, spending decisions were clearly no longer the exclusive domain of the HAC but

were being made on an apparently ad hoc basis by almost every other House committee

(Schick 1990). Under such conditions it became difficult for members' to dispute

Nixon's definition of the problem as one of congressional structure rather than fiscal or

political priorities. The more Congress struggled with the Nixon administration for

control of the federal budget, the more it drew attention to its own "endemic"

organizational weaknesses in that area (Sundquist 1981, p. 158-60; also Schick 1981,


Although several members were willing to acknowledge that existing

arrangements were weak or inadequate, the considerable electoral benefits that existing

arrangements made available to incumbent Representatives appeared to insulate the status

quo from major reform. Prior to 1972, however, these internal problems and pressures

failed to generate the momentum require to fuel a successful reform movement. The

benefits of majority status, combined with firm hold of southern conservatives on the

reins of institutional power, encouraged most Democrats to defend the internal status quo.

There was evidence of growing public concern with deficits and impressions of runaway

spending but these were scattered across various constituencies and difficult for any

single member of Congress to respond to, given the political context and institutional

arrangements of the time. Budget reform in the early 1970s, in other words, presented

Congress with a classic collective action problem that was compounded by the risk and

uncertainties associated with the introduction of new rules and procedures.

Institutionalist perspectives predict that the momentum necessary to overwhelm the status

quo rules and arrangements in any organization is always considerable (March and Olsen

1989), but with respect to congressional budget reform in the early 1970s, the bar seemed

particularly high as prereform arrangements appeared to work to the electoral benefits of

all incumbents, regardless of party.

Although the various stresses on the system had become clear by 1970, internal

resistance to reform remained high and for most members, and the issue was of little

interest to their constituents. Unlike issues of public policy, questions of internal rules

and structure are not likely to be seized upon and championed by individual members.

The strong stake that most members are expected to have in the maintenance of the status

quo should have been sufficient to prevent such efforts from ever getting off the ground.

The costs and benefits to individual members of internal reform are difficult to foresee,

and the issue unlikely to be of much interest or relevance to voters. When it finally began

to build, the strongest pressure for reform came from partisan forces outside the

institution; namely from divided government and the steady pressure for reform applied

by Richard M. Nixon from the bully pulpit of the presidency.

The Adversarial Executive and Budget Reform

The precipitating factor that finally pushed Congress and into the second stage of

budgetary reform was President Richard Nixon and his relentless criticism of the ad hoc

congressional budgetary process and the Democratic majority that ran it. The problems

that had plagued congressional budgeting since the mid-1960s could conceivably have

dragged on interminably without members ever feeling sufficiently pressured to make

substantial changes to internal rules and structure of their own volition. Indeed, the

case of budgetary reform shows how members of Congress, particularly in the House,

strongly resisted all pressures for change until Nixon's actions and rhetoric--added to the

combustible mix of the changing political and economic environment--forced them to

respond and come up with some kind of reform proposal.

The enduring resistance of House Democrats to budget reform is difficult to

overstate and raises some interesting questions about conventional assumptions regarding

the origins and nature of internal reforms. It has been suggested--and indeed it often

seems the case--that changes in the rules occur when they help an otherwise 'frustrated'

majority to secure their preferred policy outcomes. For example, if a majority of

members wanted to make it more difficult to raise taxes, they might alter the rules to

require a two-thirds majority for the approval of tax increases. It is far less clear-cut,

however, in the case of budgetary reform what the Democratic majority expected to gain

from the changes that were ultimately made, other than to reassert their budget-making

authority vis-a-vis the executive and to create a platform from which they could

politically compete on the national stage. Nixon's actions may have provided Democrats

with the political motivation for reform but in 1973 they clearly did not possess the

substantive consensus on agenda goals or priorities that the new process would demand

of them.

Far from being the proactive, outcome-oriented decision of a frustrated majority,

Democratic support for internal reform in this case, appears as a forced, defensive

decision driven by short-term political considerations. Some individual members like

David Obey (D-Wi.) understood the issue in terms of future outcomes and agendas, but

many more members seemed constrained by the historical path of institutional

development on which centralized authority had been consistently eschewed in favor of a

strongly decentralized system of specialized policy committees. The historical record

attests that many more members of the Democratic majority saw budgetary reform as a

risk rather than an opportunity, and one that they carefully avoided until the last possible

moment. Existing arrangements certainly appear to have frustrated the goals of some of

the more liberal members of the party from time to time, but these same liberals simply

did not have the numbers to alter the rules to suit their purposes. Liberal Democrats had

been much more inclined to pursue internal reform through other, less direct channels--

such as backdoor spending and changes in Caucus rules--specifically because they knew

they could not prevail on the floor of the House (Bolling 1966).

The passage of budgetary reform was anything but a purposive, deliberate attempt

on the part of a frustrated majority to facilitate the achievement of shared agenda goals.

Members resisted the pressure for change for as long as possible and when they finally

did capitulate, they came up with a bill that gave no single faction what they wanted with

an effect that few at the time would have predicted. The turning point on the

congressional road to budgetary reform came in the struggle with the Nixon

administration over spending decisions.

As many authors have pointed out, the turning point on the congressional road to

reform was provided by Nixon's efforts to wrest greater control of federal spending

decisions from Congress. His unprecedented use of the impoundment power24 alienated

many Democrats, increasing numbers of whom came to see his actions as not only a

threat to their policy goals but also to their constitutional power of the purse. Presidents

had been impounding funds with no clear statutory or constitutional authority since

the earliest days of the Republic and Congress had failed to challenge their actions, often

because they seemed justified by events that occurred after Congress had acted. An oft-

cited example of a justified impoundment was Jefferson's 1803 decision to defer

spending $50,000 that Congress had appropriated for gunboat construction some months

before the Louisiana purchase had removed the immediate threat of war with France.

The anti-Deficiency Act of 1905 (as subsequently amended in 1950) formally granted the

executive to establish reserves to meet future contingencies or for savings if goals or

programs can be achieved for less than the expected cost or if the appropriated

expenditure later becomes unnecessary.

In the years following 1905, successive presidents began to more broadly interpret

their authority under the anti-deficiency Act. Yet Democrats in the 1970s contended that

none had used it to the extent or with the intent that Nixon did. They claimed that

previous presidents had either restricted their actions to postponing spending or to

adjusting defense policy, which had long been recognized as an area of executive

responsibility. Congressional Democrats in the early 1970s based their opposition to the

administration's unilateral efforts to control spending on the argument that the

impoundment power had never before been used to permanently overturn congressional

decisions. Republicans countered that the only reason that actions of previous presidents

had gone unchallenged was that Congress had generally been controlled by the same

party. They further contended that Nixon was only acting in the national interest and had

no choice but to impound due to the failure of the Democratic Congress to minimize

inflationary pressures on the economy and constrain spending during a period of

economic crisis.

While the showdown over spending is often portrayed primarily as a clash of

competing institutions, it was a strongly partisan or ideological struggle that would set the

tone and parameters for the long era of divided control that lay ahead. It also marked the

beginning of the end for the norm of "presidential fellowship" that had dominated

congressional-presidential relations since 1921, and this decline inevitably required an

adjustment in congressional process and organization.

Prior to the onset of divided government in 1969, members of Congress of both

parties had typically seen it as their duty and responsibility to follow the lead of the

executive branch, implicitly--if not explicitly--accepting the president as legislative

leader (Ripley 1969; Sundquist 1981). Congressional consideration of the budget had

clearly reflected this ethos; since 1921, presidents had prepared an annual budget,

submitted it to Congress where, after some minor adjustments, most of it would be

enacted. The president set the agenda as well as many of the political parameters and

Congress had little choice but to go along with much of what he proposed as its options

were limited to following or obstructing, and the latter could not be sustained for very

long. 25

This fellowship norm was strained to breaking point by the substantial ideological

distance between Nixon and the Democratic-controlled Congress. Congressionally

approved bills and presidential proposals increasingly contained provisions that ran

contrary to the preferences of the opposing branch. The differences were especially

strong in the area of budget politics and economic policy. The norm of presidential

fellowship had also been complicit in the institutionalization of a decentralized

system of specialized and largely autonomous policy committees and some degree of

recentralization was clearly required for the Congress to formulate and pursue its own

agenda and priorities in opposition to those of the president. Members of Congress

continued to resist the centralization of power that a comprehensive budget process

would inevitably require, but Nixon's criticism of existing arrangements as inadequate

continued unabated.

To paraphrase Samuel Kernell, Nixon 'went public' on the issue of congressional

budget reform, making numerous and often detailed statements about the shortcomings of

the existing system and the need for change. His arguments about budget reform and

charges of congressional irresponsibility were given additional significance by the

worsening economic conditions and the conservative protests that federal budget deficits

were adding to inflationary pressures on the national economy. As early as January of

1971, he began pushing the need for budget reform in the general context of the

"Federal" system, though he placed blame for current problems squarely on the


The system was a major step forward in 1921. Because of congressional
inaction, it has become a travesty a half-century later.... Enactment of
Appropriations 6 months or more after the start of the fiscal year they are
supposed to cover is evidence of a major weakness... we must seek a
more rational, orderly budget process. The people deserve one, and our
government, the largest fiscal unit in the free world, requires it. 26

In his Budget Message for 1972 he repeated much of the same criticism, charging

that "the uncertainties and hesitation caused by these delays in congressional

[Appropriations] action have hindered the orderly management of the Government."27

He also condemned "individual irresponsible acts of spending"--presumably by members

of Congress--and pointedly added that "[a]ny procedural reform that encouraged

Congress to be aware of the overall effect of their individual actions would have

substantial benefits for all of us". 28

While he strongly disagreed with many of the policy outcomes of congressional

budgetary decision making, in none of these messages did he single out the individuals

nor the political party responsible for them. Instead, he focused squarely on the process,

stressing the objective fact that Congress enacted the budget in a piecemeal and

haphazard fashion, while carefully avoiding any mention of the substantive policy

differences between his administration and congressional Democrats. His focus was

structural but his goals were strongly partisan; by altering the structure of the institution,

he sought to affect the outcomes produced by the Democratic majority.

In this respect, his approach to the issue provides a far better fit than Congress's

with the rational choice expectation of changing the rules to secure preferred policy

outcomes. He did not, of course, possess any formal authority over congressional rules,

but he was clearly in a strong position from which to push for reform. Unlike members

of Congress, if Congress obstructs or opposes his agenda, the president has nothing to

lose by pushing for reform as he has no personal stake in the maintenance of status quo

arrangements. By speaking in a single voice, he can also make a strong and persuasive

case as to why proposed changes are necessary in a way that would be close to

impossible for members of Congress to do so.

Nor does the president need to directly educate the voters on the issue of reform

or convince them that proposed changes will provide a significant and tangible

improvement over current arrangements. His target audience is much smaller; a majority

of the 535 men and women, whom he must cajole into changing internal rules or

arrangements. As in many issues of public policy, the president's case will often be

strongly affected by his popularity and visibility relative to that each individual

incumbent, often over and above the merits of the particular proposal in question.

Through his frequent and highly critical public statements regarding the need for

budgetary reform, Nixon connected the issue of budgetary reform to the constituency

level for sufficient members to thrust it onto the congressional agenda,

Nixon not only sought to place the blame for existing problems on Congress but

also set members up to take the fall for forcing a tax increase in the future. The tendency

of the electorate to vote 'with their pocketbooks' is a well-documented one, and rising

inflation has the potential to significantly affect the pocketbooks of millions of

constituents across the country. Inflation consistently topped lists of voter concerns in

1970-71, and Nixon argued that if Congress failed to rein in federal spending, a tax

increase would become necessary to control the deficit. Congressional inaction would

only strengthen Nixon's claims (and those of congressional Republicans) that a

spendthrift and irresponsible Congress was to blame for the worsening economy.

By publicly advocating congressional budget reform, Nixon claimed the issue as

his own and linked it to economic conditions, setting up the possibility of double

electoral jeopardy for those who opposed it, based on either opposition to a popular

president and/ or contributing to the economic downturn. His highly partisan criticism

was effective in pushing reform, because it resonated in districts across the country,

providing a strong and critical link to the constituency dimension, and triggering a

congressional response that would culminate with the CBICA of 1974.

Congressional Acquiescence and the Debt Ceiling Increase Bill, October 1972

Persistent presidential criticism and a string of unilateral administration actions on

budget issues may have helped carry Congress through the first stage on the road to

reform, but congressional debate of the second stage was far less concerned with the

president's authority to take such action (most members agreed he had no such authority)

and much more focused on how Congress could effectively reassert its own control over

the nation's purse strings. There was little disagreement about the fact that Nixon had

gone too far in his efforts to unilaterally control spending, both in a political and a

constitutional sense. Several prominent Democrats--including a group of Democratic

Senators led by Sam Ervin (D-NC)--had filed lawsuits charging that the President had

overstepped his constitutional authority. Many Republicans did not actively defend their

President's actions but rather agreed with his position that current congressional

arrangements were inadequate and that changes would have to be made before Congress

would be capable of responsibly exercising control over the nation's fiscal policy.

Between April and September 1973, the courts ruled against the administration in all but

five out of some thirty impoundment cases (1973 CQ Almanac, p.253), making it likely

that Nixon's impounding activities would have been curtailed even without congressional


Congress, however, was clearly not content to leave the issue to the courts. The

political staying power of issues related to the appropriate division of budgetary power

between the two branches, in spite of repeated court rulings in Congress's favor, testified

to the seriousness with which members had accepted the basic thrust of Nixon's criticism

and had become determined to enact some kind of budget reform. As the title of the final

statute attests, the issues of restraining the executive and congressional budget

reform were inextricably linked from the very beginning because congressional action on

the former seemed to require, for many members, congressional resolution of the latter.

Al Ullman (D-Ore.) spoke for many of his colleagues, Republican and Democrat alike,

when he declared that:

The only way we can solve the problem of impoundment is for Congress
to set its own priorities. The answer to impoundment can't be merely
political... It's got to be structural in the Congress. If Congress can't set
its own House in order, it can't be too upset about the executive moving in
and setting priorities. 29

The implication was that as long as Congress declined to take any formal action to

constrain the executive, budgetary reform could be postponed. Given the state of the

economy in the early 1970s and divided partisan control, there were strong political

incentives for Democrats to continue to abdicate authority in this area to the president,

perhaps most of all, to be "absolutely clear that the Republican executive...was

responsible for the state of the economy" (Sundquist 1981, 87). Budgetary authority

continued to ebb away from the Congress and toward the president due to the various

partisan, constituency and internal considerations discussed above. Members-and

especially those in positions of power within the House-were simply unwilling to

confront the difficult issues and tensions that would have been aroused by the issue of

internal budgetary reform. This strategy of avoidance-and with it, internal resistance to

reform-was pushed to breaking point in October 1972 when the HWMC included in a

debt ceiling bill provisions to grant Nixon the authority to make cuts as he saw fit in

order to keep total federal spending below $250 billion for FY1973.

The Debt Ceiling Increase Bill

On September 27, 1972, the HWMC reported a bill to provide for a temporary

increase in the public debt ceiling (HR 16810; H. Rept. 92-1456). The legislation also set

a $250 billion limit on spending through the remainder of fiscal 1973,30 and concluded

that because the Congress had failed to come up with areas in which reductions could be

made, "it would be better to ask the President to indicate the areas of expenditure which

can appropriately be reserved for this one year rather than facing the additional problems

of increased inflation or increased taxes." 31

On each of the three dimensions of reform, there were many reasons to expect

that the formal delegation of power contained in the 1972 debt ceiling bill should never

have been approved. Many presidents had asserted an expansive impoundment power,

but no such authority had ever been formally recognized or granted by Congress. On a

partisan dimension, it seemed ridiculous that a sizable Democratic majority would

willingly delegate such broad authority to a Republican president whose fiscal views and

priorities were so strongly at odds with those of so many of its own members. Concern

about high spending may have been substantial in many Democratic constituencies, but

the party as a whole continued to place a high priority on providing federal assistance to

alleviate the worst effects of the economic downturn. Left to his own devices, these were

precisely the programs that Nixon was determined to cut back on as he saw them as

wasteful, inefficient and an inflationary pressure on the economy. In order to better

defend their priorities, constituents and clientele group interests, most congressional

Democrats should not have supported this unprecedented delegation of authority to the


On an internal dimension, this proposal should have been rejected as a threat

to the power and credibility of Congress as a whole, and hence something that incumbent

members of the institution would not support. Their individual power has always

depended on the institution collectively maintaining and protecting its influence and

credibility relative to the other branches of government. The proposed delegation of

power to the president might have been appealing on the grounds that could in the short-

term prevent a major disruption to existing arrangements (and hence the internal

distribution of power), but over the long-term it should have been opposed as a threat to

the prestige and influence of the Congress as a whole.

At the constituency dimension, members in general seemed unlikely to support

this delegation of power on the grounds that it would curtail their influence over issues of

direct interest to their constituents and had the potential to disrupt the flow of district

benefits that were assumed to be so central to most of their reelection campaigns. It also

would have created the opportunity for the political blackmail of individual

representatives by the president, to the extent that he could threaten or guarantee funding

for projects of interest to such members in exchange for their support or opposition on

votes that were important to him. By agreeing to delegate unlimited power to cut

spending above a certain level, members risked having the president cut programs or

projects affecting their district, a proposition that most members should have found

unappealing at best.

Worsening economic conditions, however, combined with internal divisions

among Democrats and Nixon's strong approval ratings, resulted in the proposed

delegation of power being approved by the House. The bill was reported unanimously by

the HWMC in a clear attempt at once blame and constrain the HAC. The rationale

offered by Chairman Mills and the HWMC was that the delegation of budget-cutting

authority to the president was required to hold spending down and hence avoid blame for

"detrimental effects on the domestic economy" in the coming elections or, in particular

for forced a tax increase upon the voters. 32 In seeking to avoid such outcomes, the

committee position resonated with many members anxious about electoral repercussions

if their inaction was seen as adding to the economic hardships already being suffered by

their constituents.

This anxiety appears to have been very much driven by members' anticipation of

potential or latent policy preferences among inattentive publics (Arnold 1990), as general

concern over the economy was only beginning to mount33 and there was little evidence in

public opinion polls or the press of any significant public debate or even awareness over

the issue of congressional budgetary procedures. The fight over the debt ceiling/ spending

ceiling bill (HR 16810) was a last-ditch attempt by the House to fend off difficult

budgetary choices by temporarily giving the authority to make spending cuts to the

president. By shifting the responsibility, they also hoped to avoid any electoral fallout

that might result from unpopular spending cuts or the continued economic decline.

On the floor, a string of prominent members argued that Congress had "lost

control" of fiscal policy and that significant authority to limit spending simply had to be

delegated to the president; they argued that they had no choice, and that the politics

seemed "with" the president on the issue. HWMC chairman Wilbur Mills--who had

personally cut a deal with the president earlier in the year over the indexation of

entitlements--forecast dire electoral consequences for Democrats who refused to go

along with his Committee's proposal:

I believe the American people are aware of what is going on. I know the
American people want something done about it. If they cannot get it out
of this Congress, my guess is that they are going to elect a Congress on
November 7 they think will work in the direction of containing inflation,
containing federal spending. 34

Although the opposition of the Democratic leadership resulted in the bill being

denied the closed rule under which HWMC legislation was generally considered, only

one amendment came to a vote on the floor. The HAC chairman, George Mahon (D-Tx),

offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute for the second title of the bill that

granted broad cutting authority to the president. Mahon's substitute proposed that the

president submit his "suggestions" for cuts to the Congress for their consideration. The

floor action either caught the leadership off guard, or they never seriously considered the

possibility that the Ways and Means bill might pass.

Table 2-1: Party divisions on the Debt Ceiling Increase bill (HR 16810); The Mahon (D-
Tx.) Amendment and Final Passage Votes, October 10, 1972.
Rep. Dem (ND,SD)a Rep. Dem (ND-SD)
Mahon Amendment 8 159 (121,38) 156 60 (17,43)
Final Passage 141 80 (35, 45) 21 142 (108, 34)
a (Northern Democrats, Southern Democrats).

The vote on both the Mahon substitute and passage of HR 16810 show the major

congressional divisions on the question of congressional versus presidential control over

the federal budget at this critical moment on the road to reform. Mahon's amendment

was easily rejected 167-216. The Democratic majority suffered some 60 defections, two-

thirds of them from the South (see Table 2-1). Region, however, does not account for all

the non-party variation on the vote, as southern Democrats were themselves almost

evenly split on the bill; 38 of them initially supported the Mahon substitute.

Table 2-1 also provides the divisions on the final passage ofHR 16810, though

the first vote on the Mahon amendment must have been the most difficult for defecting

Democrats. Perhaps uncertain of the outcome, some members may have initially hedged

their votes on the substitute. When it was defeated by such a wide margin, however, and

it became obvious that the Committee bill was going to pass, some members seem to

have reevaluated their positions, producing still greater cross-regional and cross-party

divisions on the final passage vote.

While southern Democrats provided the bulk of the defections on the Mahon

amendment, the 17 northern Democrats who had joined them in opposing the substitute

more than doubled to 35 who supported the bill on final passage. Similarly, the 8

Republicans who had supported the Mahon amendment nearly tripled to 21 who voted

against final passage of the Committee bill. The partisan and regional lines were distinct

but not definitive, and on this vote, at least, the coalitional lines on the issue lacked

clarity and consistency.

As a test of additional influences beyond regionalism and party on this critical

vote, the following table (Table 2-2) presents the results for a logistic regression of

support for the Mahon amendment using a set of independent variables to represent each

of the three dimensions of reform--the partisan, the constituency and the internal.

Although, as expected, party accounts for most of the variation, variables representing the

other two dimensions of reform--the constituency and the internal--were also significant

influences on this watershed vote. Perhaps most unexpected, however, was the

insignificance of members' personal vote in the last election in predicting their votes

on the Mahon amendment, a result that suggests that the influence of the forthcoming

presidential elections on members decisions at this time was quite overwhelming.

Table 2-2: Partisan, Constituency and Internal Variables Regressed on Support for the
Mahon Amendment (Logistic Regression)
Coefficient (s.e) Probability
Republican a -4.44 .000***
Personal Vote (%), last election -.014 .272
District Vote (%) for Nixon, 1972 -.164 .000***
Seniority b .04 .087*
Membership ofHAC c 1.35 .016**
Membership of HWMd -2.04 .010**

a Coded 1 for Democrat, 2 for Republican
b Equals the number of years served by each member in office in January 1971
c Coded 1 for a member of the HAC, 0 otherwise.
d Coded 1 for a member of HWMC, 0 otherwise.
* p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001; two tailed tests.

In spite of the fact that voting on HR 16810 took place several weeks prior to the

1972 presidential election, I use district vote for Nixon in 1972 as a measure of

presidential popularity for two principle reasons. Firstly, the 1968 vote was of

questionable relevance to the situation in October 1972, in part because of the amount of

time that had elapsed and because of the considerable advantages that accrue an

incumbent president during his first term. Furthermore, the 1968 results would also have

been highly inaccurate as a proxy for Nixon's popularity in 1972 because of George

Wallace's third-party candidacy in 1968 and his particularly strong showing in the South.

Finally, Nixon's re-election was widely predicted by mid-October35, and so it seems

likely in most cases, that his district level popularity did not vary a great deal

between October 10 and the election on November 7.

The results in Table 2-2 show that, based on Nixon's district level share of the

1972 vote as a proxy for his popularity in the district prior to the election, his popularity

swamped the member's personal vote in 1970 as a predictor of their votes on the Mahon

amendment. The greater Nixon's personal popularity in a district, the more likely its

Representative was to vote against the Mahon amendment, irrespective, it seems, of their

personal electoral security.

Internal considerations such as seniority and membership of HAC or HWMC also

had a significant influence on support for the Mahon amendment. The seniority and

HAC variables performed as expected; both more senior members and members who

served on the HAC were significantly more likely to support the Mahon amendment and

oppose ceding further institutional authority to the executive branch. By ceding control

over spending to Nixon, the institution as a whole stood to lose significant power and

influence to the presidency and for these reasons, senior members--who

disproportionately held positions of the greatest power within the institution--should have

been among the measure's strongest opponents. This should have been especially true of

members of Appropriations as it was their jurisdiction that the proposed delegation of

power infringed most directly upon. As Table 2-2 shows, even controlling for party,

personal electoral security, presidential popularity, and seniority, members of HAC were

still significantly more likely than other House members to support their chairman's


Members of the HWMC on the other hand, had unanimously reported the bill

out of their committee and were significantly less likely than other members to support

the Mahon amendment. The support of HWMC members for this measure was highly

ironic given that the Committee had actually remained consistently more liberal than the

HAC and much closer to the Democratic ideological median after 1965. Yet they

unanimously approved an increased delegation of power to a conservative president and

sent it to the floor. It is likely that their position reflected the Committee's strongly

conservative orientation to issues that fall under their own jurisdiction, an attitude that

would not necessarily have been reflected in broader ideological measures.36 Their

conservatism also seemed to have escaped the widespread criticism and resentment

attracted by the HAC and its annual proceedings, perhaps for no other reason than the

Committee acted less frequently and dealt with issues of less direct import to as many

members. Nixon's threat that a tax increase would become necessary if Congress could

not hold down spending may also have played a role in galvanizing support for the

proposal among Committee members who were not already concerned by the president's

popularity in their districts.

It seemed that members of the HWMC essentially bought the president's

argument about congressional irresponsibility and acted on it, in part because it resonated

with their ideological orientation toward fiscal policy but also because it allowed them to

blame Appropriators while ducking their own responsibility for the current situation.

Tensions between chairman Mahon of the HAC and chairman Mills of the HWMC

clearly ran high during the floor debate on HR 16810. Mahon charged that while Mills

"talks about economy and points the finger at the Appropriations Committee", he had

personally "led the fight over the last 10 years that has reduced the revenues of this

government by over $50 billion for the forthcoming fiscal year." Without those

reductions, Mahon concluded, "we would be in the black...".37 He also repeatedly

condemned Mills for his Committee's proposal that Congress simply turn the country's

fiscal policy over to the executive for resolution:

I just hope that never again will my friend from Arkansas bring in a bill in
which authorization is given to the executive branch to amend existing
law. Congress should not surrender the power to legislate or the power of
the purse. We should not abdicate the authority of the legislative branch,
our power of the purse. That is the way we find ourselves under the
gentleman's bill.

Mills did not respond directly to these charges except with general statements that if the

House did not approve of his committee's actions, they would surely be voted down on

the floor.

This first formal battle for budgetary control had split the House roughly along

partisan lines, but ideological and internal divisions among Democrats, combined with

the impending presidential election and Nixon's widespread popularity, gave the

president the victory in this instance. The House approved the bill and its unprecedented

transfer of authority on October 10, 1972, by a comfortable margin of 221-163. John

Anderson (R-Ill.) recalled its impact in the following terms:

I think it was just a case of the pot boiling over.. a genuine milestone in
solidifying support for budget reform and crystallizing an issue in an way
that brought it front and center in people's minds. Until then they had
lived in their own little worlds of the committee system where what
happened in their committee was really their business and nobody else's
and they would take care of it as they saw fit. 39

Although a comfortable majority of House members supported the delegation of

power to Nixon, it also marked the peak of their acquiescence. The controversial Title II

was later dropped in conference, but the debt ceiling bill that was ultimately signed

into law retained provisions for a Joint Study Committee on Budget Control to draw up

proposals for budgetary reform and report back to the main chamber by February 15,

1973. Congress had come close to formally ceding broad discretionary control over

spending decisions to the executive, but instead it finally set in motion the process to

reform its own budget-related rules and procedures.


1 For example, in December 1972, Gallup reported that 54 percent of those surveyed supported Nixon's
proposals to hold down spending and taxes, while only 39 percent agreed with the congressional position of
spending more on social programs (Gallup 1978, p.81).

2 John Anderson (R-Ill.), interview with author, May 25, 1999.

3 1972 Congressional Quarterly Almanac, Washington D.C.: CQ Press. p.66

4 Democratic staff, interview with author, September 8, 1999.

5 Democratic staff, interview with author, June 1, 1999.

6 Interview with author, May 25, 1999.

7 Several interviewees referred this to as an argument often made by Bolling. Phil Burton (D-Ca.) and
Henry Reuss (D-Wis.) had led DSG efforts to push the issue within the House prior to reform and it was
often debated and considered by the House Budget Committee during the first few years of its existence.

8 Interview with author, June 10, 1999.

9 Interview with author, May 11, 1999.

10 Interview with author, April 21, 1999.

11 This "inefficiency" argument has its roots in rational choice assumptions of member behavior and
priorities-Mayhew (1974) articulates the basic premises and Ferejohn (1974) provides an illustrative case
study. For more formal discussions see (among others) Baron and Ferejohn 1989, Baron 1995.

12 This role was described in detail in Fenno, 1966, but was also a common observation across many
empirical accounts of the HAC in the prereform era.

13 Interview with author, May 14, 1999.

14 John Manley, The Politics ofFinance, (1970) p. 57. One interviewee also remarked on how little
substantive knowledge of tax issues Dan Rostenkowski possessed on assuming the HWMC chairmanship

in 1977 as his main purpose previously had been "to project Mayor Daley's power into the committee
appointment process" (Barber Conable, interview with author, July 7, 1999).

15 The Committee position prevailed on all 72 of their bills considered under closed rules between 1947 and
1965. In the same period, it was defeated once under a modified closed rule and once out of the 16
occasions on which their bill was considered under open rules. See Manley, 1970, p. 221.

16 Scholars have also emphasized that the prolonged postwar period of economic growth was critical in its
stability and entrenchment. See Ellwood 1985, Gilmour 1990, Mansfield 1973.

17 Events that Fenno (1966) describes as having triggered 'economy moods' in the House that caused the
breakdown of regularly observed norms and a high level of conflict and disagreement on Appropriations

18 Figures are from historical data presented in the 1999 CBO Report "The Economic and Budget Outlook:
Fiscal Years 2000-2009."

19 The size of the Democratic majority jumped from 258 members in the 88th Congress (1961-63) to 295
after the 1964 elections, and fell back to 247 in the 90th their smallest majority since the 85th (1957-59).

20 Interview with author, May 25, 1999.

21 Poole and Rosenthal 1997. D-Nominate scores are calculated from all nonunanimous roll calls in a
Congress and place a legislator on an ideological scale where 1 is the most conservative score, -1, the most

22 See Schick 1981 for a detailed description of these battles and their implications. The surtax of 1968, the
increasing use of continuing resolutions provide further examples of the congressional preference for
temporary fixes over longer term solutions to growing fiscal problems.

23 Backdoor spending refers to any allocations not subject to the annual appropriations process. Entitlement
programs are one example; authorizers have been able to spend money using contractual authority. Once
they have contracted for services or materials, they create a legal obligation that must be fulfilled.
Backdoor spending has been around for a long time; Fenno reported that $81 billion in federal spending
was allocated through such channels between 1947 and 1960 (1966, p.46).

23 Interview with author, May 14, 1999.

24 Congressional Quarterly reported that Nixon had impounded some $40 billion in congressional
appropriations during his first term (1973 CQ Almamac, p.245). He added substantially to this as Congress
considered reform through 1973.

25 See James Sundquist 1981 for a more detailed discussion of the implications of the 1921 Act for

26 Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1971 (Washington D.C. Government
Printing Office, 1972) p. 87.

27 Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1972 (Washington D.C. Government
Printing Office, 1973) p. 97.

28 Ibid., p. 97-98.

29 CQWR, 1973, p. 1013.

30 Prior to the 1974 Act, the federal fiscal year began on July 1.

31 U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, Public Debt Limitation: Report ;. ,. h,. ,
with DL, .-. oii, o Views [to accompany HR 16810]. GPO, Washington D.C., 1972.

32 Ibid.

33 The Gallup poll reported that by the end of September 1972, concern about the economy had drawn even
with that over the war in Vietnam, with 27 percent of respondents naming each as "the most important
problem facing the country today" (Gallup 1978).

34 Congressional Record, Volume 118, October 10, 1972, p. 34596.

35 By October 1, 1972, Gallup estimated that Nixon had a 61-33 percent over the Democratic nominee,
George McGovern (Gallup 1978).

36 As Barber Conable succinctly put it, \\ .\ and Means is bound to make people more conservative
because you have to look at the price tag on everything and you have to raise the money. If you want to be
popular you get on the Appropriations Committee and spend money." Interview with author, July 7, 1999.

37 Congressional Record, October 10, 1972, p. 34599.

38 Ibid.

39 Interview with author, May 25, 1999.


The establishment of the Joint Study Committee on Budget Reform (JSC) under

the 1972 debt ceiling increase bill of October 1972 marked the completion of the first

stage on the congressional road to reform. The release of its recommendations early in

1973, however, underscored the difficulties that still lay ahead in the second stage--that

of coming up with a proposal that could prevail on the floor. The 1974 Act was the

product of a series of major compromises that were made after the JSC had submitted its

recommendations in April and as the Rules Committee marked up both impoundment

control and budget reform legislation through the summer and fall of 1973. In this

chapter, I summarize these compromises and argue that while politically essential, they

guaranteed the structural problems that would plague the early years of the new process

and a great deal of its unexpected political impact.

In the aftermath of the October 1972 debacle on the House debt/ spending ceiling

bill, and as Nixon stepped up his impounding activity in the months following his

reelection, most members had come to accept the fact that budget reform simply had to

happen. Nixon's single-most effective criticism of the process was simple and especially

telling given the economic slow-down that was continuing to plague the country:

Congress had no process by which it could decide between competing programs and even

attempt to bring spending more in line with revenues. Despite the heavily ideological

motivation behind Nixon's attacks, he emphasized that Congress was irresponsible

because it did not have a system by which to construct, enact and enforce a budget.

While he strongly disagreed with congressional policy decisions, this obvious

organizational shortcoming helped take the ideological edge off his criticism by shifting

the focus away from politics or policy preferences and toward the more neutral territory

of process and organization.

The fact of this organizational shortcoming helped make the case for reform on

both sides of the aisle. Following Nixon's lead, many conservatives understood

"irresponsibility" in terms of outcomes; Congress was behaving recklessly by spending

too much and a new process would constrain spending. Liberals, on the other hand,

could concur that the process was "irresponsible" to the extent that Congress lacked the

capacity to plan or coordinate fiscal policy decisions and priorities. Those who supported

reform did so largely on the grounds that congressional decisions to spend or tax more or

less had to be arrived at through a more rational, formal process. Even those who had

most stridently opposed the delegation of power contained in the spending ceiling bill--

Mahon foremost among them--had generally accepted this outcome-neutral argument for


While Nixon had succeeded in forcing a response from Congress, the majority

Democrats were still in no position to respond in anything resembling as coherent or

effective a fashion. A maj or part of the problem was the party's southern conservatives

who, once again, found that they had more in common with their Republican counterparts

than their fellow Democrats. But there were also deep divisions between Democratic

HAC and HWMC members that had boiled over on HR 16810 and that needed to be

addressed before the chamber could proceed with budget reform.

It should also be recalled that by the time the JSC reported back to the House in

April 1973, conditions had changed a great deal since the struggle over the spending

ceiling bill and the presidential elections of the previous fall. In particular, conservative

Democrats were under increasing pressure from reformers within their own party and

their institutional authority was under attack from several different fronts, a couple of

which seemed to present far greater threats than that of budget reform. In January 1973,

the Democratic Caucus approved several major changes in its rules that directly

threatened the power and positions of the southern conservatives. The first was to extend

Caucus voting on committee chairmen at the beginning of each Congress from an on-

request to an automatic basis. No incumbents were unseated under the new rule in 1973

but it sent a strong message to the southerners that their party's patience with their

obstructionist behavior was wearing thin.

A second development that curtailed the power of the chairman was the adoption

of the "Subcommittee Bill of Rights" by the Caucus, also in January in 1973. This

reform package specifically removed significant organizational powers from the

chairman and distributed them more broadly among other panel members. Instead of

allowing the chairmen to unilaterally appoint subcommittee chairmen, for example, a

new procedure under which members would bid for subcommittee assignments and

chairmanships in order of seniority was established. Subcommittee chairs were also

granted significant independence in the areas of staff, resources and specific policy

jurisdictions (see Rohde 1991; Smith and Deering 1990).

At the same time, committee chairmen and their allies were also concerned by the

formation of a bipartisan House Select Committee on Committees in January 1973, led

by the consummate reformer, Richard Bolling of Missouri. This committee was set up to

study the basic structure and jurisdictions of the committee system and report back to the

full chamber with recommendations for reform. Although the proposals of the

Committee were eventually (and narrowly) voted down by the Democratic Caucus in

1974, this panel met throughout the period during which budget reform was being

considered and unquestionably diverted considerable attention from the issue of budget


On top of all this internal upheaval, the Watergate scandal took several serious

and disturbing turns in the course of 1973, at once diminishing Nixon's popularity and

hence leverage, and increasingly consuming the Congress. Several congressional staffers

interviewed for this project strongly suggested that this chaotic context was at least partly

responsible for the passage of budget reform as, under such conditions, the issue simply

did not attract the scrutiny it would otherwise have received. This is not to suggest,

however, that the JSC report to the House in April 1973 was received without


The Joint Study Committee Reports, April 1973

The Joint Study Committee on Budget Control was made up of thirty-two

members, almost entirely drawn from the House and Senate Appropriations and revenue

Committees. Only six members, however, were responsible for drafting the preliminary

report that was unanimously approved by the full committee a week before it was sent to

the floor on April 18. Among these six members, the House was represented by

Democrats Jamie Whitten (Miss.) of the HAC, Al Ullman (Ore.) of the HWMC along

with Republican Herman Schneebeli (Pa.), also of the HWMC. Whitten likely exerted a

strong influence over these proceedings as, at that point in time, he was a 31-year veteran

with more seniority than Ullman and Schneebeli combined and a year ahead of the most

senior Senator (McClellan, D-Ark) on the Committee.

The brief amount of time it took this panel to produce (and approve) both the

preliminary and the final report suggested a high level of agreement about what needed to

be done among members of this elite and powerful group and no real effort to produce a

consensus bill that members of any other committees would have any reason to support.

The Committee began their deliberations at the opening of the 93rd Congress in January

1973, their six senior members submitted their draft report on April 10, and the full

Committee unanimously approved their recommendations and sent them to the floor in

bill form (HR 7130) on April 18. While these members did not dispute the need for some

kind of reform, their vision of the new process was more along the lines of a mechanism

to bring their two committees together to discuss their plans and reach agreement on

aggregate-level totals before returning to their separate committee to write up their bills

as usual.

The JSC proposed new Budget Committees in both the House and Senate that

would be charged with producing a budget resolution at the beginning and end of each

session that would set overall limits on budget outlays and authority, determine the level


of revenues and arrive at an "appropriate level of deficit or surplus and debt" (HR 7130).

It also provided for a highly centralized process that would be tightly controlled by these

new committees. They even went so far as to require "consistency" with the totals of the

first budget resolution throughout the process. This meant that if a member wanted to

offer an amendment on the floor to introduce new spending, they also had to propose an

offset elsewhere in the budget or include language to formally increase the budget

resolution ceiling on spending (an early variation on the pay-as-you-go formula that

would finally be approved under the Budget Enforcement Act (BEA) of 1990). Unlike

most other members of the House, the JSC clearly had little problem with the idea of a

powerful, centralized process--as long as it was almost entirely controlled by the HAC

and HWMC.

The JSC proposal also contained specific rules related to the membership and

leadership of the new budget committees, and which basically ignored all other members

and committees except for the HAC, the HWMC and the Speaker. They proposed a

House Budget Committee of twenty-one members, with seven being selected by HAC

from its own membership, seven to be selected in the same way from the HWMC, and

the final seven to be appointed by the Speaker. Only members of the HAC and the

HWMC would be eligible for the chairmanship of the new Budget Committee, with an

HAC member holding the position during even-numbered years an HWMC member

during odd-numbered years (HR 7130, as introduced April 18, 1973).

Not surprisingly, their proposal received a less than enthusiastic reception when it

was introduced in bill form on April 18. The most scathing criticism came from the

liberal Democratic Study Group which quickly denounced it as a blatant power grab by

the money committees that would "lock the process into a conservative mold for

generations to come" (DSG Staff, 1973a). These charges were vehemently denied by

JSC leaders who argued that their proposal was an honest effort to make the existing

system work better. Of course, because the money committees felt that they were the

existing system, their members would naturally be central to any effort to improve it. As

far as the JSC was concerned, the new budget committees were intended to function as a

formal channel for communication, dialogue and cooperation between the taxing and

spending committees and the process, and would strengthen their ability to impose their

decisions on the rest of the chamber.

The (largely) more junior liberal Democrats naturally did not share this view.

Since the establishment of the Democratic Study Group (DSG) in 1959, these members

had been seeking to break the hold that the party's senior and highly conservative

southern members had developed upon the institution and its clusters of committee

power. Yet the floor was a difficult venue for them because of the strength of the cross-

party conservative coalition. Writing on congressional reform in the 1960s, Rules

Committee member Richard Bolling recognized that party divisions worked against

Democratic efforts to pursue reform "in study commissions or on the floor of the House"

and argued that liberals should instead concentrate on the arena they did have the

numbers to control; namely the party caucus (Bolling 1966, p. 238)

Nixon had forced the Democratic majority into undertaking reform through

formal study commissions and floor action, yet these were venues in which liberals nor

conservatives could fully control either the process or the outcome. The conservatives

could have conceivably ignored the liberals and pushed reform through with Republican

support but such action would likely have irrevocably alienated the liberals, without

whose support the process would have soon foundered. The liberals, on the other hand,

lacked both the numbers and the institutional clout to secure their ideal outcome.

Compromise was essential to getting some form of budget reform through the House.

Yet the JSC proposal had something to alienate virtually everyone; the membership rules

would have specifically excluded authorizers and most liberals, and the centralized,

unforgiving process would have made it almost impossible for any non-budget committee

member to have a substantive effect on taxing or spending decisions. There seemed to be

very little common ground between the various factions as the House Rules Committee

convened its hearings on the JSC proposal (HR 7130) on July 19.

The Evolution of the Reform Coalition in the House: July-December 1973

The three month delay between the introduction of the JSC proposal in April and

the beginning of Rules Committee hearings in July suggested a prolonged behind-closed-

doors campaign by the Democratic leadership to patch up internal divisions over the JSC

report and negotiate an alternative that could unite the party and prevail on the floor.

Rules Committee member Richard Bolling, who led the Democratic reform effort, had

also been behind many of the recent efforts to strengthen the role and influence of the

party Caucus, and Democratic debate on the issue of budget reform was likely confined

to this venue during the extended period of Committee inaction. Still, the prospects for

consensus among Democrats appeared low throughout most of the summer.

In a move that suggested the strength of the backlash in the House against the JSC

recommendations, Bolling himself publicly backed away from the whole idea of new

budget committees, presumably on the grounds that they would be too powerful and too

dominated by conservatives under the JSC proposal. During June hearings of the House

Select Committee on Committees that he chaired, Bolling heard testimony from HAC

chairman George Mahon, and surprisingly agreed with Mahon's assessment that budget

control could just as well be tightened by strengthening the HAC instead of weakening it

by handing off some of its power to the new budget committees (CQWR, June 16, 1973,


The Impoundment Control Bill, July 1973

Before the Rules Committee hearings on budget reform finally got underway, the

same Committee reported an impoundment control bill to the floor in June 1973.

Although impoundment control seemed as if it should have been an easier issue than

budget reform for House Democrats to deal with, an early leadership version of the bill

(HR 5193) that had been introduced in early March still languished in the Rules

Committee in early June. While the issue was stalled in the House, however, the Senate

had pushed ahead and passed the Ervin Impoundment Control bill (S 373) on May 10,

increasing the pressure on the House to act. A new House bill (HR 8480) was

subsequently introduced by Rules Committee chair Madden (D-Ind), and while it retained

many of the same provisions as the earlier leadership bill, a second title was added that

set a spending ceiling for the coming fiscal year and granted limited executive

impoundment power to the executive through the same time period. These changes were

clearly intended to address the continued--and apparently considerable--sensitivity among

Democrats over the appearance of a pro-spending bias if they voted to limit presidential

impoundments without providing for some check on congressional spending.

The decision of the Democratic leadership to bring this bill to the floor at this

particular point in time is difficult to comprehend. Not only was it substantively

inconsistent in that Title I sought to permanently limit the presidential impoundment of

funds while Title II specifically granted him authority to make impoundments through

new fiscal year, but it was also all but guaranteed a presidential veto in the unlikely event

that it was approved by both chambers. The inconsistency of its provisions and the near-

certain veto that awaited it, however, may have given the leadership confidence that they

could force something through on the floor and that its passage might help renew the

party's flagging commitment to budget reform. The addition of Title II seemed

specifically aimed at placating the party's fiscal conservatives who should also have been

particularly heartened by the prospect of the veto for anything that did pass.

In spite of its symbolic nature, floor voting and debate on the Impoundment

Control Bill (HR 8480) in July offers further quantitative evidence of the evolving reform

coalition in the House at this significant mid-point in its deliberations. The bill was

reported by the Rules Committee on June 22 and revisited many of the same issues as the

Debt Ceiling bill of the previous fall. Once again, the primary focus was to constrain the

efforts of the executive to circumvent congressional spending decisions. The direction of

the proposal was now reversed as, in spite of the second title, the thrust of the legislation

was to establish a permanent procedure by which the Congress could make presidential

impoundments conditional on its own independent judgment.

Title I of the House bill proposed that the president be required to formally notify

Congress within 10 days of impounding funds and that a simple majority resolution of

either chamber would be sufficient to overturn the impoundment. Title II of the Act

stipulated a spending ceiling for FY1974 and required the president to make an across-

the-board reduction in all but a few exempted programs to hold spending to that level.

As in October 1972, the delegation of power would expire at the end of the fiscal year as

the new impoundment controls came into effect.

The focus of debate this time this around was less on the temporary delegation of

authority to the president and more on the provisions for impoundment control and the

wisdom setting up of such a system without a new congressional budget process in place.

On the floor, Republicans made many of the same arguments against impoundment

control that had been used to successfully defend the Ways and Means bill in October

1972; that it was irresponsible to constrain the executive without having created a

congressional budget process in the House; that due to the failure of the Congress to act,

the executive had no choice but to try and control spending, and that Congress, not the

executive was the problem. The proposal might therefore have been expected to divide

members along roughly the same lines as the Debt Ceiling bill of October 1972; those

who felt that Congress was not capable of making such decisions and those who believed

that the president had to be restrained, by statute from making further unilateral

impoundments in order for congressional power to be successfully reclaimed.

There was considerable discontent among Republicans that the measure had not

been combined with budget reform legislation. John Anderson had led efforts to join the

two issues during Committee deliberations but his amendments failed and his proposed

floor amendment to do so was not made in order. Republican pressure had been

instrumental in getting the Impoundment Bill to the floor, as a way to both draw attention

to Democratic inaction on budget reform and to increase pressure on the House


leadership to bring the JSC proposals to the floor. Their sense of urgency likely stemmed

from two principal sources. The first was that they were fully aware of the in-fighting

that had broken out among Democrats in the wake of the JSC report and that if it was left

to the majority party to work out a compromise amongst themselves, they were likely to

make dramatic changes to the JSC proposal and its tight controls on spending which most

Republicans would have preferred to remain unchanged. The original JSC proposal was

a good fit with the fiscal conservatism long espoused by congressional Republicans. The

longer the delay in bringing a reform package to the floor, the more compromised that

original proposal was likely to be.

House Republicans appeared well aware of this and almost every one of them

who spoke during the floor debate on HR 8480 repeatedly emphasized their strong

support for the JSC version of budget reform and their eagerness for an immediate vote

on it. The ranking member of the Rules Committee, Dave Martin (R-Neb.), set the tone

for the impoundment control debate by declaring that he and his four Republican

colleagues on Rules were "most anxious to proceed expeditiously with reporting

legislation to set up a legislative budget and a budget committee in the House." 1 With a

10-5 majority-minority ratio on Rules, the Republican minority had to win over only

three committee Democrats in order to take the original JSC proposal to the floor where

the conservative coalition could presumably have controlled the outcome.

While Republican after Republican rose on the floor to declare their support for

budget reform and the irresponsibility of seeking to constrain the president before

providing for a congressional budget process, the Democrats tried hard to refute the

administration's argument that a spendthrift Congress was to blame for the current crisis,

and to frame impoundment control as a nonpartisan constitutional issue. Above all else,

the decision to take the bill to the floor appears to have been primarily seen as a test run

for budget reform. Although the leadership still ran the risk of being outmaneuvered on

the floor by the conservative coalition, the contradictory provisions of the bill and the

certain veto that awaited it afforded them a valuable and relatively low-risk opportunity

to probe the parameters of a possible floor coalition before moving the budget reform bill

forward. Its consideration also prompted many members to go on the record in support

of budget reform, pronouncements that could conceivably have provided the leadership

with some additional leverage when it came time to push that bill through the House.

Table 3-1 shows the party divisions for the floor vote on passage of the Rules

Committee Impoundment Control and Spending Bill. As discussed above, this bill

basically asked the same question of members of Congress as the debt ceiling bill had in

October 1972: should Congress reassert its control over federal spending or should it

continue to allow the president to circumvent their decisions in this area? The November

1972 elections had not drastically altered the partisan division of the House, though the

Democratic majority had been slightly strengthened by a net gain of eleven seats. As this

table shows, members reversed their October 1972 position by voting 254-164 for the


Table 3-1: Party divisions on the Impoundment Control and Spending Ceiling bill, HR
8480; Final Passage. July 25, 1973
PARTY Rep. Dem (ND,SD) a Rep. Dem (ND,SD)
Final Passage 36 218 (144,74) 150 14 (10,4)
a (Northern Democrats, Southern Democrats)

Voting on the Impoundment Control Bill was just as partisan as on the Mahon

amendment, though the advantage was now in the opposite direction. Democrats

presented a surprisingly united front as 94 percent of their members who voted supported

the bill (compared to the 73 percent of those voting who had backed the Mahon

amendment). Republican unity, on the other hand, dropped sharply from 95 percent

against the Mahon amendment to 81 percent in opposition to the Impoundment Control


Several key considerations likely made it easier for Democrats to rally around this

bill than it had been for them to support the Mahon amendment. First among these was

likely the distance from the election and Nixon's lame-duck status, not to mention some

damaging developments in the Watergate scandal. Second, were the leadership's

considerable efforts to appease the party's conservatives, in particular through the

inclusion of the second title as a stopgap measure. Finally, however, the leadership

ultimately caved in completely on Title I when they went along with an amendment by

Rep. Heinz (R-Pa.) that limited the anti-impoundment provisions to the same time span

as the spending ceiling-until the end of fiscal 1974 on June 30, 1974. Although this

amendment destroyed any pretense of substantive significance to the legislation, the

response from Rules Committee Democrats was limited to an inquiry from Spark

Matsunaga as to whether Mr. Heinz would support the bill if his amendment was

adopted, followed by a brief statement by Bolling that he had "canvassed" a number of

Rules Committee members and found "that the amendment is acceptable to them."2 The

amendment was then agreed to without dissent.

By considering impoundment control separately from budget reform, the Rules

Committee managed to bring the various party factions together in this largely symbolic

vote. As Republicans charged, the bill was going nowhere fast, but for the purposes of

the Democrats who were struggling with deep internal divisions over budget reform, it

may have served to reaffirm the party's commitment to reining in the executive and to

remind all its members why it was so imperative that they pass a budget reform bill. This

reminder was helpfully underscored by Republicans who protested loudly throughout the

floor debate that impoundment control was meaningless, if not dangerous, without

budgetary reform.

As part of a consensus-building strategy, the impoundment control bill worked

well for Democrats. Table 3-2 shows the results for the same logistic regression model

used to analyze the Mahon amendment vote, applied to the Impoundment Control bill.

These results show that while members of Ways and Means remained significantly more

likely than other members to vote against restraining the president, support for

impoundment control--albeit in principle--was no longer disproportionately concentrated

among senior members and members of Appropriations, as it had been on the Mahon

amendment. As noted in the discussion of the defeated Mahon amendment, this shift

may have been at least partly attributable to the distance from the fall elections, though

the district vote for Nixon in 1972 did remain a strongly significant predictor of

members' votes on this bill. What had most likely happened was that concerns had

grown among Democrats about the Nixon administration, both in terms of its continued

efforts to circumvent congressional control and the growing scandal surrounding the

Watergate burglary. Furthermore, these doubts seem to have spread to House

Republicans who suffered a large number of defections on this largely symbolic bill.

Table 3-2: Partisan, Constituency and Internal Variables Regressed on Support for Final
Passage of the Impoundment Control Bill (Logistic Regression)
Coefficient (s.e) Probability
Republican a -4.1 (.39) .000 ***
Personal Vote (%), last election .015 (.013) .258
District Vote (%) for Nixon, 1972 -.054 (.02) .007 ***
Seniority b .0315 (.022) .159
Membership of HAC c -.599 (.48) .217
Membership of HWMd -1.4(.7) .046 *
a Coded 1 for Democrat, 2 for Republican
b Equals the number of years served by each member in office in January 1971
c Coded 1 for a member of the HAC, 0 otherwise.
d Coded 1 for a member of HWMC, 0 otherwise.
* p <.05; **p < .01; *** p <.001; two-tailed tests

Throughout the floor debate, Democratic leaders repeatedly emphasized their

commitment to the reform package and made it clear that they accepted the linkage

between the two issues and would do everything possible to bring that bill to the floor

before the end of the session. This emphasis, combined with the fact that the Rules

Committee hearings on reform had finally got underway the week before, must have

helped reassure many members that reform would be forthcoming and that the necessity

of such action was no longer in any doubt. While reform had been discussed in general

terms during the debate over the establishment of the JSC as part of the debt ceiling bill

the previous October, the level of commitment toward internal reform had remained an

unknown quantity at that point in time.

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