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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Rise of Party Control over Policy Stability: The Effects of 20th-Century Congressional Reforms on the House Ways and Means Committee


The House Ways and Means Committee, with a purview over matters concerning revenue and taxation, has been one of the most powerful committees in Congress since 1789. Under Chairman Wilbur Mills from 1958-1974, Democrats and Republicans compromised to successfully pass legislation; however, House reforms in the late 20th century revolutionized committee structure and member conduct. This paper examines how these reforms have changed the Ways and Means Committee by comparing the findings of Richard Fenno’s Congressmen in Committees to the actions of the Committee from 2007-2018. By analyzing member behavior, committee activity, and floor success, this paper finds that polarization of members within Ways and Means has increased and the Committee’s relative pass rate has decreased. An in-depth case study of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 reveals the effects of Committee partisanship on macroeconomic issues. This paper finds the influence of party control in the Committee to be all-encompassing, and generally emphasizes the need for policy stability across Congressional sessions in the Ways and Means Committee.

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