Inside Congressional Committees: Function and Dysfunction in the Legislative Process

Maya Kornberg

Inside Congressional Committees: Function and Dysfunction in the Legislative Process
Columbia University Press
United States
7 February 2023

Inside Congressional Committees: Function and Dysfunction in the Legislative Process

Maya Kornberg

It is widely believed that Congress has broken down. Media accounts present the storied legislature as thoroughly gridlocked, paralyzed by partisan rancor. Political scientists find that Congress is passing fewer laws and spending less time on legislative work. Which parts of a supposedly dysfunctional legislature continue to function?

Maya L. Kornberg examines the legislative process beyond voting patterns, emphasizing the crucial role of congressional committee hearings. In committees, lawmakers hear from expert witnesses, legislators revise and discuss bills before bringing them to a vote, and the public has an opportunity to engage with Congress. Kornberg scrutinizes the inner workings of committees-the different types of witnesses who testify, the varied hearings Congress holds, and the distinct effects that committee work has on congresspeople. She deploys original mixed-methods datasets that span from insider interviews to sentiment analysis examining the language used in hearings. Kornberg evaluates how committees operate and the conditions affecting their performance, finding that committee work can be more deliberative and productive than the politics of the Congress floor.

Through a comprehensive exploration of who committees hear from and how they listen, this book demonstrates that Congress is not as dysfunctional as is often claimed. Inside Congressional Committees also suggests timely reforms based on these findings that can strengthen Congress.

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