In following the election of House Speakers in recent years, it is hard to overlook the common thread of their acceptance speeches: All vow to return to the regular order, restore the committee system, and give members greater latitude to participate in the legislative process. Party leaders are not above acknowledging the obvious: the House in recent years has been too leadership-driven, at the expense of member and committees prerogatives.
The best laid plans of leaders and followers alike go awry in the intervening clash of cultures involving members, committees and leadership.
Despite these opening day promises to return to regular lawmaking, the fabric soon unravels and the House again becomes entangled in the chaos of authorization logjams, policy-laden appropriations bills, Senate unresponsiveness to House initiatives, and lack of conference committees to resolve differences between the two bodies. Budget deadlines are missed, money bills wither on the vine, unpicked — it all inevitably leads to a last-minute crush to cram everything into unread, omnibus legislation as the express ticket out of town, one step ahead of the law (whatever might be in it).
It’s not that leaders are insincere or deceptive in their opening remarks. It’s simply that the best laid plans of leaders and followers alike go awry in the intervening clash of cultures involving members, committees and leadership. Given the historical trend of declining committees, as leaders gained dominance, members have become more inclined to shift their attention from their authorizing committee responsibilities toward constituent service and more floor amendments, especially on appropriations bills.