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Going Nuclear, Senate Style.” Perspectives on Politics, 2007. With Sarah A. Binder and Steven S. Smith.


Abstract: Conflict within and beyond the United States Senate has refocused scholarly and public attention on “advice and consent,” the constitutional provision that governs the Senate’s role in confirming presidential appointments. Despite intense and salient partisan and ideological disputes about the rules of the game that govern the Senate confirmation process for judicial appointees, reformers have had little success in limiting the ability of a minority to block contentious nominees. In this paper, we explore the Senate’s brush with the so-called “nuclear option” that would eliminate filibusters of judicial nominees, and evaluate competing accounts of why the Senate appears to be so impervious to significant institutional reform. The past and present politics of the nuclear option, we conclude, have broad implications for how we construct theories of institutional change.

Senator Thomas Hart Benton (D-MO) served in the chamber from 1821 to 1851.


“Informational Asymmetries, the Parliamentarian, and Unorthodox Procedural Choice in the United States Senate.” Under Review


Abstract: Scholarship on the United States Senate has demonstrated the pivotal role the presiding officer can play when asked to interpret the chambers' rules and precedents. This study evaluates factors that influence the presiding officers' decision-making when such questions arise. I find that partisanship was a significant influence in early senates. However, the emergence of a formal parliamentarian in the 1920s served to decrease informational asymmetries within the chamber, leading to a non-partisan application of rules and precedents.

Longtime Senate Parliamentarian Floyd M. Riddick

“The Vice President in the U.S. Senate: Examining the Consequences of Institutional Design.” With Michael S. Lynch. Under Review


The constitutional designation of the vice president as the president of the Senate is a unique feature of the chamber.  It places control over the Senate's rules and precedents under an individual who is not elected by the chamber and receives no direct benefits from the maintenance of its institutions.  We argue that this feature has played an important, recurring role in the Senate's development.  The vice president has frequently acted in a manner that conflicted with the wishes of chamber majorities.  Consequently, the Senate has been reluctant to allow chamber power to be centralized under their largely unaccountable presiding officer.  This fear has prevented the Senate from allowing its chair to reduce dilatory action, as the House has done.  Accordingly, delay  via the filibuster, has become commonplace in the Senate.  This has reduced the Senate's efficiency, but has largely freed it from the potential influence of the executive branch. 

John Nance Garner (D-TX) was the 32nd Vice President.  He was not thrilled about the position.

“Assessing Congressional Responses to Growing President Powers: The Case of Recess Appointments.”  With Ryan C. Black , Ryan J. Owens, and Michael S. Lynch. Accepted with Minor Revisions, Presidential Studies Quarterly


Abstract: In 2007, the Senate initiated a permanent session expressly to block the president from making recess appointments which would have circumvented the normal advice and consent process and left majority Senate Democrats without a voice in their selection. Using this example as our guide, we examine how Congress -- like the 2007 Senate -- can use its institutional powers to constrain unilateral presidential powers. We argue that Congress will stand up to presidents when the policy costs of legislative inaction are high and the political costs of action are low. Using multiple research approaches, we show that high political costs for majority party Senate Democrats drove them to find innovative and low-cost solutions to constrain the president. Had the Senate not employed its solution, we estimate that approximately 54% of all vacancies on major independent boards or agencies would have been filled by recess appointees.


“Obstruction in the Antebellum Senate: The Bank Bill of 1841.”


Abstract: While the United States Senate has many distinguishing institutional features, the ability of a minority to defeat legislation by filibustering is unquestionably the most well-known. Yet despite the prominence of the filibuster political scientists have been unable to come to a consensus on why the institution persists. On one side scholars argue there have been times when Senate majorities have been blocked from altering the chamber's debate rules by minorities. An alternative account suggests that the Senate's rules reflect the preferences of majorities.  Both accounts rely heavily on evidence provided by historical case studies.  This paper seeks to make two primary contributions to this debate.  First, I provide a detailed theoretical comparison of both theories.  Second, I reevaluate the most prominently cited case study -- that of the passage of the Bank Bill of 1841.  A more detailed account of the Bank Bill's consideration yields three primary conclusions.  First, by employing a strictly unicameral case study, neither camp was able to offer a complete assessment of senators' decision-making.  Second, both camps' accounts of the episode were biased by the omission of key issues.  When these issues and the broader, separation of powers context is considered, I believe the inherited rules theory appears to offer a more satisfying explanation for how obstruction affected the bill's consideration.  I conclude by offering implications for future theories of congressional obstruction. 

The Bank Bill of 1841’s most important supporter, Senator Henry Clay (W-KY).

By holding the chamber in permanent session, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) prevented President George W. Bush from making a significant number of important recess appointments.

“Institutions and Coalition Formation: Revisiting the Effects of Rule XXII on Winning Coalition Sizes in the U.S. Senate.” Accepted with Minor Revision, The American Journal of Political Science.


Abstract: The theoretical treatment of winning coalitions in the United States Congress is a longstanding tradition within political science.  Recent empirical work has brought a renewed attention to the effect Congressional rules of procedure have on coalition formation (Krehbiel 1998; Wawro and Schickler 2004, 2006). These scholars posit that legislative success hinges on the support of legislators identified by institutionally-defined decision rules. Under these theories, supermajority decision rules in the United States Senate lead to more inclusive coalitions on final passage.  In this article, I reevaluate these claims by controlling for changes in the legislative agenda and the roll call voting record.  I find that coalition formation is most responsive to the underlying issue area.  Further, my findings suggest that any connection between changes in the Senate’s voting rules and the size of winning coalitions is spurious.


Data: Figures 1-2, Models 1-4

“Viva Voce: Implications from the Disappearing Voice Vote, 1807-1990.”  With Michael S. Lynch. Under Review


Abstract: The percentage of public laws subject to a final passage roll call vote has not been constant throughout congressional history.  The proportion of bills that passed Congress viva voce in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was far higher than recent decades.  In this article, we explore the consequences of this phenomenon.  Using a dataset of landmark legislative enactments passed between 1816 and 2006 we test what conditions led to an increased likelihood an enactment would receive a recorded vote.  We argue that the changing composition of the roll call record make the early roll call record  a less reliable tool for scholars seeking to test theories of legislative behavior.  However, researchers can mitigate potential biases by controlling for factors that led to recorded roll call votes.

Partisan Signaling and Agenda Control in the U.S. House of Representatives.” With Jamie L. Carson and Michael H. Crespin.


Abstract: Theories of partisan influence in Congress suggest that the leadership can influence vote choices and legislative outcomes.  Cox and McCubbins (2005) have theorized and Cox and Poole (2002) have found that party strength is most evident on procedural matters.  In this paper, we take advantage of a new source of data providing updates from the Majority Leader’s Office that at times indicate the leadership’s positions on upcoming legislation and scheduled floor votes.  Utilizing these data from recent congresses, we seek to offer a more nuanced explanation of voting in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Whereas others have implicitly assumed that the party influences all procedural votes, our preliminary findings suggest that not all procedural votes are created equal.  In fact, these floor updates indicate that the majority party offers direction on some procedural votes (e.g., ordering the previous question and special rules), but not on others (e.g., the motion to recommit).  Our findings have direct implications for individual voting behavior and legislative outcomes in Congress.

“Roll Call Voting and the Dimensionality of Congress.” With Keith L. Dougherty and Michael S. Lynch.


Abstract: Poole and Rosenthal (1997) claim that congressional voting is often unidimensional. There are multiple explanations for this phenomenon, not all of which are related to a latent unidimensional ideology among members of Congress. In this work, we investigate the effect of cut lines on the dimensionality of the U.S. House and the spread of its ideal points. We find strong evidence that cut lines affect the dimensionality of Congress and weaker evidence that cut lines affect the spread of congressional ideal points. This suggests that the roll call votes considered by a Congress may suppress the estimated number of latent dimensions and accentuate differences between parties.

Below is a list of my publications and working papers.  My research focuses on the United States Senate, legislative rules, inter-branch relations and institutional development.  If you have any questions, comments or angry rants about my work, feel free to e-mail me. 


Working Papers:

“The House Majority Party and the Rules Committee: Bargaining Over Chamber Procedure.” With Michael S. Lynch and Jason M. Roberts.


Abstract: Nearly all major legislation in the House necessitates a special rule from the Rules Committee before it can be brought to the chamber floor.  These rules often specify when a bill will be considered, the length of the debate and what amendments will be in order.  Scholars of political parties argue that the majority party's ability to control this process represents its strongest source of influence in the chamber.  While a great deal of research has focused on special rules, it has largely been confined to the macro-level question of whether or not the Rules Committee causes non-centrist policy outcomes.  In this paper, we highlight the micro-level bargaining process by utilizing a new dataset of all proposed amendments considered before the creation of a special rule in the 110th Congress.  Doing so provides us substantial leverage in determining how the committee causes non-centrist policy outcomes.  Specifically, we find that while majority party Democrats are significantly more likely than minority party Republicans to have their proposed amendments considered and successfully passed under restrictive rules, their success is conditional on intraparty ideology.  The more conservative a Democrat is, the more likely their amendment is to be considered under the rule and to win on the floor.

Early in the debate over the Affordable Health Care for America Act of 2010, Democratic leaders sought to use restrictive chamber rules to bar a controversial amendment offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI).

Adding Recess Appointments to the President's “Tool Chest” of Unilateral Power.” Political Research Quarterly, 2007. With Ryan C. Black , Ryan J. Owens, and Michael S. Lynch.


Abstract: In the struggle to control the federal bureaucracy, presidents have an overlooked but powerful tool: the recess appointment. By making recess appointments, presidents can fill vacancies without the advice and consent of the Senate. The authors delineate three conditions that define presidential unilateral powers and demonstrate how recess appointments fit within that paradigm. Presidents, the authors argue, should be more likely to make recess appointments to important policy-making positions, namely, major independent agencies. The authors compiled a data set of every civilian nomination and recess appointment between 1987 and 2004. After controlling for other factors, the authors find strong support for their theory.

“Winning Coalition Formation in the House and Senate: Examining the Role of Issues and Institutions.” With Jamie L. Carson, and Michael S. Lynch. Under Review


Abstract: Political science literature has focused on two main causal factors in explaining coalition formation in the United States Congress: issues and institutions.  We believe that the existing literature suffers from two major limitations. First, prior work has developed hypotheses about coalition formation largely in isolation from each other. As we argue and demonstrate in this paper, the primary explanation for coalition formation is the interaction of both issues and institutions. Second, scholars working in this area have failed to consider coalition formation in a bicameral context – particularly on legislation that is considered in both chambers. Comparing the size of coalitions between congressional chambers on the same bill allows us to directly consider the role differing decision rules play, while at the same time controlling for the underlying issue area.