Changing Cultures in Congress: From Fair Play to Power Plays, Donald R. Wolfensberger

Ryan D. Williamson
Content Type
Journal Article
Political Science Quarterly
Issue Number
Publication Date
Winter 2019-20
Academy of Political Science
In 2017, then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan broke the record for most closed rules in a single session. Ironically, this feat came only two years after vowing to lead the House in a more open and inclusive manner than his recent predecessors had. This about-face was not new or unique to Ryan, though. Indeed, he was simply the next in a string of Speakers over the previous few decades to promise greater debate, only to renege shortly thereafter. Chronicling this decline of deliberation in Congress is the focus of Donald R. Wolfensberger’s work. The former Republican staff director for the House Rules Committee offers a detailed yet accessible insight into how Congress has evolved in recent history. Beginning with a brief discussion of the history of majoritarian politics in Congress, Wolfensberger specifically looks at a litany of case studies from the last two decades. Topics cover a wide range, including health care reform, budgets and deficits, and the Iran nuclear deal, to name a few. Within each, a common theme pervades—the majority party must “rely on extraordinary consultation, pressures, and compromises within its own ranks, as well as on a creative use of the rules, to eke out a victory on contentious legislation” (p. 57).
Government, Book Review, Political Science
Political Geography
North America, United States of America