Where is democracy? Where is open debate? Where is the free flow of ideas? Not one amendment will be able to be offered to anything the Republicans do today.– David Bonior (D-MI)
The introduction to this part of the book asked whether committees were agents of the House, of the majority party, or of no one but themselves. It is uncontroversial to say that committees are in principle agents of the House. It is, after all, the House that decides whether there will be any committees at all and, if so, determines their jurisdictions, staff allowances, party ratios, and everything else of consequence. The very word committee originally denoted a person (later, a group) to whom some charge, trust, or function had been committed.
The argument is over who exercises the power that the House undoubtedly possesses. The committee government model essentially argues that no one group or coalition is able to use this power effectively; it is so little exercised that committees might just as well be taken as autonomous. We argue, in contrast, that the most important function of the majority party is precisely to seize the House's power to structure the committee system.
The rest of this chapter deals with three questions that naturally arise regarding our claims. First, how does the majority party use the structuring power of the House to influence the committee system? Second, what are the consequences of this structural power?