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Schickler and Rich: Controlling the floor

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Schickler and Rich. 1997. Controlling the floor: Parties as procedural coalitions in the House. AJPS.

The Debate

See Cox and McCubbins, "Toward a theory...". This is an argument with that article (and with earlier stuff, notably 1993's Legislative Leviathan).

S&R challenge two of C&M's (1993) claims: 1) the majority party determines the key features of the House, and 2) the majority party credibly threatens to punish party members who side with the opposition on votes that determine key features of House organization.

Key Point:

Partisan control of the House is contested by ideological cross-party coalitions that vary in strength with the size of the majority party and its homogeneity, as well as the nature of the issues under consideration.

Argument

S&R argue that changes in House rules may occur when the floor median changes, even if the caucus median does not. In addition, threats are not credible because the party can least afford to punish rebels when it needs to most (when the majority is small).

S&R examine changes in House rules, the discharge process, Rules Committee rules, and committee jurisdictions. In each of these, they find evidence that the majority of the majority party did not always approve of these changes.

The evidence on punishments is not as strong as C&M would have us believe. In the 1920s, the Republicans only punished when they had a strong majority. In the period 1937-1965, the severely divided Democratic Party only punished presidential defectors and never those who defected on rules votes. Majority party members could defect with relative impunity until the mid-1970s.

There is some evidence that good committee assignments are given to party loyalists as rewards.

The majority party has not been able to entrench a set of partisan logrolls. Control of the House depends on the size and homogeneity of the majority party.