Studies of congressional structure frequently focus on the powers and authority of standing committees in the House and Senate. From a theoretical perspective, committees are either the foundation and core of the policy process in congress as in a distributive model of legislative structure, or are seen as the vital workhorse in providing information and policy proposals to parent bodies like the party or chamber as described in partisan and informational models. From a more empirical standpoint, recent observers of Congress have disagreed about the contemporary status of legislative committees vis-a-vis other congressional actors, particularly chamber and party leaders.
Despite the claims of some of the field's best scholars as to current strengths or weaknesses of committees in the congressional decision making process, we still have few means by which to measure the power and authority of committees, particularly if we seek to understand the changes in influence of specific panels over time. This project rectifies this shortcoming by gathering new data on bill introductions and referrals. This allows the investigators to more accurately define committee jurisdictions, better test theories of jurisdictional change, understand the process and prevalence of committee issue gatekeeping, and discover the effects of individual and committee agendas on the overall work of each chamber of Congress.
The researchers collect information on all bills introduced in Congress from 1947-2000. Grounded in current research on congressional organization and policy decision making, the investigators describe how data on bill introductions and referrals can answer a wide range of questions concerning committee authority and policy agenda setting. For example, information on bill referrals provides a more complete delineation of "common law" committee jurisdictions by moving scholars beyond simply those issues on which a panel is active (holding hearings), to additional consideration of those matters on which it has referral authority by may remain inactive (no hearings). Similarly, information on "non-decisionmaking" in committees allows the researchers for the first time to truly test models of committee gatekeeping across panels and over changes in procedural rules and structures.
By integrating data on policy "inputs" (bill introductions) with existing information on policy demand (public opinion and media cues) and governmental outputs (enactments and budget authorizations), they are able to study the dynamics of committee authority and influence over the legislative agenda with a more comprehensive depiction of congressional decision making. The dataset will be of great value to numerous other scholars interested in this topic.