The United States Congress has been described as dysfunctional, gridlocked, polarized, hyperpartisan, chaotic, and do-nothing. In Changing Cultures in Congress, congressional scholar Donald R. Wolfensberger explains the institutional dynamics behind Congress’s devolution from a respected legislative institution to a body plagued by a win-at-any-cost mentality and a culture of perpetual campaigning.
In both a historical and present-day account of congressional dysfunction, Wolfensberger explores the causes of legislative standstill and the methods used by majorities and minorities that have led to today’s policy paralysis. He describes how Congress has gradually abandoned its commitment to fair and neutral procedures that safeguard both majority rule and minority rights in favor of “power House rules”—procedures and processes that advantage the majority party’s electoral goals as opposed to neutral rules that preserve minority party and individual member rights to full participation in the legislative process. Through historical sketches and case studies from the past decade under both Republican and Democratic majorities, he shows how both parties have gamed what the founders intended would be an impartial set of legislative rules into a system that advantages majorities and marginalizes minorities. Digging deeper than superficial partisan explanations, Wolfensberger gives a thorough and persuasive explanation for our legislative leaders’ inability to find substantive policy solutions that are in the national interest.