Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

The Contemporary Congress

January 4, 2018

The Contemporary Congress (Rowman & Littlefield 2018) is a concise and comprehensive analysis of America’s national legislature. The book develops the theme of the continuing tension between decentralizing (centrifugal) forces and those that emphasize centralization (centripetal forces). Historically, centrifugal forces, such as committees and individual constituencies, have dominated congressional politics, but over the past thirty years politics on Capitol Hill has grown consistently more centralized, most notably through partisan polarization. Ironically, although parties have grown more significant, their prominence has not led to a more productive legislature. Indeed, the Senate has grown increasingly dysfunctional, while the majoritarian House has become highly factionalized under Republican rule. At the same time, traditionally underrepresented groups such women, African-Americans, and Latinos, among others have become more prominent and powerful in Congress. In the end, the centrifugal forces within both chambers have proven powerful, even in the face of continuing partisan differences, both within the legislature and the electorate. The book addresses congressional parties, committees, procedures, elections, the 2016 presidential election, and President Trump's first year in office, with a set of clear analyses and up-to-date examples and spotlight features on individual members of the House and Senate. 

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