Strategic implications of conferee selection in the house of representatives: “It Ain't Over Till It's Over”

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Deference to committees and committee obstruction are two frequently cited phenomena of the U.S. Congress. Even in the postreform Congress, standing committees exert disproportionate influence on legislation. Shepsle and Weingast have put forth an institutional explanation for these phenomena: the ex-post veto that standing committees enjoy via the conference procedure. They argue that it is pointless for the House to drastically modify a standing committee's bill on the floor in a way that the committee disapproves of, or discharge a committee of a bill, because committees can veto legislation by refusing to come to agreement in conference. In this article I examine the procedure used by the House to select conferees, and describe the implications of this process for legislative outcomes. In doing this I suitably modify the Shepsle/ Weingast theory to fit the current rules of the House and significantly alter the implications of the theory for committee influence. I show that committee influence depends upon the behavior of the Speaker of the House and suggest that the Speaker's behavior (and hence committee influence) is determined by the preferences of the members of the majority party on the floor. I then analyze the debate over minimum wage legislation in the House of Representatives during 1972, 1973, and 1977 in the context of the theory developed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-79
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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