Recommended Reading List



Congress Reconsidered

Lawrence Dodd and Bruce Oppenheimer, eds., Congress Reconsidered 10th ed., (Washington, D.C., CQ Press, December 2012), paperback, 521pp.

Original essays by leading scholars examining aspects of the modern Congress from elections and party politics to congressional policy making.

Congress and Its Members

Roger Davidson, Walter J. Oleszek, and Frances E. Lee, Congress and Its Members, 13th ed. (Washington, D.C., CQ Press, July 2011), paperback, 495pp.

This is the best basic text on Congress in print, thoroughly up-to-date and readable; with all the salient points covered. In addition to featuring examples and cases drawn from recent congressional politics—including the battles over health care reform, financial regulations, economic stimulus, fiscal management, and tax policy—the authors also integrate new scholarship on representation, congressional elections, lobbying influence, and the relationship between Congress and the Court.

Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process

Walter J. Oleszek, Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process, 9th ed., (CQ Press, March 2013), 484pp.

Oleszek examines the use of innovative procedural devices by both the majority and minority parties to achieve their political goals and offers a reassessment of the role of conference committees in reconciling bicameral differences. The book includes examinations of: new congressional earmark reforms; the disappearance of “open rules” in the House; the surge in use of suspension of the rules in the House; the 60-vote threshold for enactment of amendments and bills in the Senate; the increase in “filling the amendment tree” in the Senate; and the heightened use of old and new oversight mechanisms to “check and balance” executive actions and activities.

Unorthodox Lawmaking: New Legislative Processes in the U.S. Congress

Barbara Sinclair, Unorthodox Lawmaking: New Legislative Processes in the U.S. Congress (Washington, D.C., Congressional Quarterly Press, July 2011), paperback.

Written with the non-specialist in mind, this book takes a detailed look at the legislative process as it is today, including the various detours or shortcuts a major bill is likely to encounter.  To illustrate the contemporary legislative process, the author uses several case studies including the economic stimulus bill of 2008, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and, of course, the health care reform legislation of 2009–2010. The author includes recent developments in the Senate (for example, filling the amendment tree); major changes in how the House and Senate resolve their differences (fewer conferences and more informal bargaining and amendments); and earmarks and changes in the appropriations process.

The U.S. Senate: From Deliberation to Dysfunction

Burdett A. Loomis, ed., The U.S. Senate: From Deliberation to Dysfunction (Washington, D.C., CQ Press, July 2011), paperback 257pp.

Offering top-notch research geared to an undergraduate audience, Loomis’ new edited volume represents a broad picture of the contemporary Senate and how it came to be. While addressing issues of delay, obstruction, and polarization in a variety of ways, the scholars in this collection are not proposing a reform agenda, but instead, explore the historical and political contexts for how difficult it can be to change a non-majoritarian, highly individualistic institution. Students will come away from these chapters with a much greater appreciation of the Senate’s unique combination of tradition, precedent, and constitutional mandate.

Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate

Gregory Koger, Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate, (University of Chicago Press, June 2010), 272pp.

In the modern Congress, one of the highest hurdles for major bills or nominations is gaining the sixty votes necessary to shut off a filibuster in the Senate.  But this wasn’t always the case. Both citizens and scholars tend to think of the legislative process as a game played by the rules in which votes are the critical commodity—the side that has the most votes wins. In this comprehensive volume, Gregory Koger shows, on the contrary, that filibustering is a game with slippery rules in which legislators who think fast and try hard can triumph over superior numbers.

Filibustering explains how and why obstruction has been institutionalized in the U.S. Senate over the last fifty years, and how this transformation affects politics and policymaking. Koger also traces the lively history of filibustering in the U.S. House during the nineteenth century and measures the effects of filibustering—bills killed, compromises struck, and new issues raised by obstruction. Unparalleled in the depth of its theory and its combination of historical and political analysis, Filibustering will be the definitive study of its subject for years to come.

The Politics of Congressional Elections

Gary C. Jacobson, The Politics of Congressional Elections, 8th ed., (Pearson, 2012), paperback, 308 pp.

From candidate recruitment to reelection strategies, this is a comprehensive look at the electoral dimension of Congress written by a first-rate political scientist.

Congressional Elections: Campaigning at Home and in Washington

Paul S. Herrnson, Congressional Elections: Campaigning at Home and in Washington, DC, 6th ed., (CQ Press, December 2011)

Combining top-notch research with real-world politics, this sixth edition provides a thorough and evenhanded assessment of congressional campaigns and elections. Herrnson’s popular book argues that successful candidates run two campaigns: one for votes, the other for resources.

Using campaign finance data, original survey research, and hundreds of interviews with candidates and political insiders, Herrnson looks at how this dual strategy affects who wins and ultimately the entire electoral system.

Money in the House

Marian Currinder, Money in the House, (Westview Press, 2009), paperback, 230pp.

Money in the House provides a compelling look at how the drive to raise campaign money has come to dominate congressional party politics. Author Marian Currinder examines the rise of member to member and member to party giving as part of a broader process that encourages ambitious House members to compete for power by raising money for the party and its candidates. As the margin between parties in the House has narrowed, the political environment has become fiercely competitive. Because electoral success is largely equated with fundraising success, the party that raises the most money is at a distinct advantage. In addition to relying on outside interests and individuals for campaign contributions, the congressional parties increasingly call on their own members to give for the good of the whole. As a result, lawmakers must devote ever increasing amounts of time to fundraising. The fundraising expectations for members who wish to advance in the chamber are even higher. By requiring their members to raise and redistribute tremendous amounts of money in order to gain power in the chamber, the parties benefit from their members ambitious pursuits. Currinder argues that the new ”rule of money is fundamentally altering the way House members pursue power and the way congressional parties define and reward loyalty.

Partisan Balance: Why Political Parties Don’t Kill the U.S. Constitutional System

David R. Mayhew, Partisan Balance: Why Political Parties Don’t Kill the U.S. Constitutional System, (Princeton University Press, 2011), paperback, 240 pp.

In Partisan Balance, noted political scholar David Mayhew examines the unique electoral foundations of the presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives in order to provide a fresh understanding for the government’s success and longstanding vitality.

Focusing on the period after World War II, and the fate of legislative proposals offered by presidents from Harry Truman to George W. Bush, Mayhew reveals that the presidency, Senate, and House rest on surprisingly similar electoral bases, with little difference in their partisan textures as indexed by the presidential popular vote cast in the various constituencies. Both congressional chambers have tilted a bit Republican, and while White House legislative initiatives have fared accordingly, Mayhew shows that presidents have done relatively well in getting their major proposals enacted. Over the long haul, the Senate has not proven much more of a stumbling block than the House. Arguing that the system has developed a self-correcting impulse that leads each branch to pull back when it deviates too much from other branches, Mayhew contends that majoritarianism largely characterizes the American system. The wishes of the majority tend to nudge institutions back toward the median voter, as in the instances of legislative districting, House procedural reforms, and term limits for presidents and legislators.

James Madison Rules America: The Constitutional Origins of Congressional Partisanship

William F. Connelly, Jr., James Madison Rules America: The Constitutional Origins of Congressional Partisanship, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; Reprint edition June 16, 2011), paperback, 350pp.

James Madison Rules America examines congressional party legislative and electoral strategy in the context of our constitutional separation of powers. In a departure from recent books that have described Congress as the broken branch or the Second Civil War, William Connelly argues that partisanship, polarization and the permanent campaign are an inevitable part of congressional politics. The strategic conundrum confronting both parties in the House of Representatives, whether to be part of the government or part of the opposition, provides evidence of how concretely James Madison’s Constitution governs the behavior of politicians to this day. Drawing on a two-hundred year debate within American political thought among the Federalists, Anti-Federalists, Alexis de Tocqueville and Woodrow Wilson, James Madison Rules America is as topical as current debates over partisan polarization and the permanent campaign, while being grounded in two enduring and important schools of thought within political science: pluralism and party government.

The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America

Ronald Brownstein, The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America, (Penguin Press HC; November 2007), 496pp.

In recent years American politics has seemingly become much more partisan, more zero-sum, more vicious, and less able to confront the real problems our nation faces. What has happened? In The Second Civil War, respected political commentator Ronald Brownstein diagnoses the electoral, demographic, and institutional forces that have wreaked such change over the American political landscape, pulling politics into the margins and leaving precious little common ground for compromise. The Second Civil War is not a book for Democrats or Republicans but for all Americans who are disturbed by our current political dysfunction and hungry for ways to understand it—and move beyond it.

The Federal Budget: Politics, Policy, Process

Allen Schick, The Federal Budget: Politics, Policy, Process, 3rd ed., (The Brookings Institution, September 2007), 320 pp.

The federal budget impacts American policies both at home and abroad, and recent concern over the exploding budgetary deficit has experts calling our nation’s policies “unsustainable” and “system-dooming.” As the deficit continues to grow, will America be fully able to fund its priorities, such as an effective military and looking after its aging population?

In this third edition of his classic book The Federal Budget, Allen Schick examines how surpluses projected during the final years of the Clinton presidency turned into oversized deficits under George W. Bush. In his detailed analysis of the politics and practices surrounding the federal budget, Schick addresses issues such as the collapse of the congressional budgetary process and the threat posed by the termination of discretionary spending caps. This edition updates and expands his assessment of the long-term budgetary outlook, and it concludes with a look at how the nation’s deficit will affect America now and in the future.

It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism (Basic Books, May 2012), 240 pp.

In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein identify two overriding problems that have led Congress—and the United States—to the brink of institutional collapse. The first is the serious mismatch between our political parties, which have become as vehemently adversarial as parliamentary parties, and a governing system that, unlike a parliamentary democracy, makes it extremely difficult for majorities to act. Second, while both parties participate in tribal warfare, both sides are not equally culpable. The political system faces what the authors call “asymmetric polarization,” with the Republican Party implacably refusing to allow anything that might help the Democrats politically, no matter the cost.

Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives

Robert Draper, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives (Free Press, April 2012) 352pp.

The U.S. House of Representatives—a large, often unruly body of men and women elected every other year from 435 distinct microcosms of America—has achieved renown as “the people’s House,” the world’s most democratic institution, and an acute Rorschach of biennial public passions. In the midterm election year 2010, recession-battered Americans expressed their discontent with a simultaneously overreaching and underperforming government by turning the formerly Democratically controlled House over to the Republicans. Among the new GOP majority were eighty-seven freshmen, many of them political novices with Tea Party backing who pledged a more open, responsive, and fiscally thrifty House. What the 112th Congress instead achieved was a public standing so low—a ghastly 9 percent approval rating— that, as its longest-serving member, John Dingell, would dryly remark, “I think pedophiles would do better.” What happened?

Robert Draper explores this question just as he examined the Bush White House in his 2007 New York Times bestselling book Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush—by burrowing deeply inside the subject, gaining cooperation of the major players, and producing a colorful, unsparingly detailed, but evenhanded narrative of how the House of Representatives became a house of ill repute. Draper’s cast of characters spans the full spectrum of political experience and ideologies—from the Democrat Dingell, a congressman since 1955 (though elbowed out of power by the party’s House leader, Nancy Pelosi), to Allen West, a black Republican Tea Party sensation, former Army lieutenant colonel, and political neophyte with a talent for equal opportunity offending. While unspooling the boisterous, at times tragic, and ultimately infuriating story of the 112th Congress, Draper provides unforgettable portraits of Gabrielle Giffords, the earnest young Arizona congresswoman who was gunned down by a madman at the beginning of the legislative session; Anthony Weiner, the Democrats’ clown prince and self-made media star until the New Yorker self-immolated in a sex scandal; the strong-willed Pelosi and her beleaguered if phlegmatic Republican counterpart, House Speaker John Boehner; the affable majority whip, Kevin McCarthy, tasked with instilling team spirit in the iconoclastic freshmen; and most of all, the previously unknown new members who succeeded in shoving Boehner’s Republican Conference to the far right and thereby bringing the nation, more than once, to the brink of governmental shutdown or economic default.

In this lively work of political narrative, Draper synthesizes some of the most talked-about breaking news of the day with the real story of what happened behind the scenes. This book is a timely and masterfully told parable of dysfunction that may well serve as Exhibit A of how Americans lost faith in their democratic institutions.