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"What's In It For Me?": Why Members of Congress Pursue Oversight
Unformatted Document Text:  a closed or modified closed rule) will tend to engage in less oversight than committeeswhose bills rarely receive restrictive rules. • H 6 : Divided Government: More frequent oversight will occur at all levels during periods of divided government. • H 7 : Oversight Mandate: Subunits with oversight-focused jurisdictions will tend to conduct more oversight hearings than other subunits. With the exception of H7, all of these hypotheses are grounded in at least one of MCs’ multiple motivations. H1 speaks most directly to MCs’ reelection motive as a basis foraction; H2-H5 address their desire for “impact” in the chamber (whether motivated out ofconcern for reelection, desire to shape good policy/oversight outcomes, or other reasons);and H6 taps into their partisan interests. 34 The following sections expand on my rationales behind these hypotheses. 3.2.1 MC Electoral Security Mayhew (1974), Fiorina (1974) and others place the reelection motive firmly at the centertheir explanations of MCs’ actions, and there is good reason to suspect that reelectionconcerns motivate MCs’ participation in oversight, particularly since oversight hearingsprovide an official venue for reelection-oriented position-taking. If the reelection mo-tive is in fact a major raison d’ˆetre for oversight hearings, it might follow that thoseMCs that are most focused on reelection would also be most interested in participatingin oversight hearings. MCs of this sort, whom Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX) termed“showhorses,” 35 would be interested in oversight hearings as a forum for position-taking. These reelection-focused MCs would find, as Payne (1980) did, that showhorse behavior,such as participation in “well publicized (and particularly ritualistic) hearings” has elec-toral benefits. Continuing this line of thought, I speculate that those MCs that are mostelectorally vulnerable will concentrate most on oversight hearings. This logic leads to thefollowing hypothesis: • H 1 : Electoral Security: The average margin of victory in the previous election for a committee or subcommittee’s members will be negatively correlated with thatsubcommittee’s oversight activity in the current Congress. In other words, those subunits whose members are most worried about their reelection prospects, based on their most recent election returns, will most doggedly pursue oversighthearings, since these hearings offer MCs a low-cost means of reelection-promoting position-taking. 36 34 Alternatively, if we observe a particular null finding for H6 – high levels of congressional oversight regardless of the parties controlling the Presidency and Congress – that would speak to another motive:MCs’ desire to build/maintain Congress’s institutional capacity vis-`a-vis the executive. See Schickler(2001) for a discussion of MCs’ multiple interests. 35 as opposed to “workhorses,” who concentrate on crafting legislation and assembling coalitions, in large part behind-the-scenes (Price, 2000, p. 64). 36 I acknowledge that endogeneity concerns often plague efforts to establish causal linkages between electoral security and congressional action. Despite these concerns, I believe that Hypothesis H1 issound for two reasons. First, there is a strong theoretical basis for inferring causality from an observedcorrelation here. In previous sections, I have (a) empirically demonstrated that seats on oversight- 25

Authors: Feinstein, Brian.
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background image
a closed or modified closed rule) will tend to engage in less oversight than committees
whose bills rarely receive restrictive rules.
H
6
: Divided Government: More frequent oversight will occur at all levels during
periods of divided government.
H
7
: Oversight Mandate: Subunits with oversight-focused jurisdictions will tend to
conduct more oversight hearings than other subunits.
With the exception of H7, all of these hypotheses are grounded in at least one of MCs’
multiple motivations. H1 speaks most directly to MCs’ reelection motive as a basis for
action; H2-H5 address their desire for “impact” in the chamber (whether motivated out of
concern for reelection, desire to shape good policy/oversight outcomes, or other reasons);
and H6 taps into their partisan interests.
34
The following sections expand on my rationales behind these hypotheses.
3.2.1
MC Electoral Security
Mayhew (1974), Fiorina (1974) and others place the reelection motive firmly at the center
their explanations of MCs’ actions, and there is good reason to suspect that reelection
concerns motivate MCs’ participation in oversight, particularly since oversight hearings
provide an official venue for reelection-oriented position-taking. If the reelection mo-
tive is in fact a major raison d’ˆetre for oversight hearings, it might follow that those
MCs that are most focused on reelection would also be most interested in participating
in oversight hearings. MCs of this sort, whom Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX) termed
“showhorses,”
35
would be interested in oversight hearings as a forum for position-taking.
These reelection-focused MCs would find, as Payne (1980) did, that showhorse behavior,
such as participation in “well publicized (and particularly ritualistic) hearings” has elec-
toral benefits. Continuing this line of thought, I speculate that those MCs that are most
electorally vulnerable will concentrate most on oversight hearings. This logic leads to the
following hypothesis:
H
1
: Electoral Security: The average margin of victory in the previous election for
a committee or subcommittee’s members will be negatively correlated with that
subcommittee’s oversight activity in the current Congress.
In other words, those subunits whose members are most worried about their reelection
prospects, based on their most recent election returns, will most doggedly pursue oversight
hearings, since these hearings offer MCs a low-cost means of reelection-promoting position-
taking.
36
34
Alternatively, if we observe a particular null finding for H6 – high levels of congressional oversight
regardless of the parties controlling the Presidency and Congress – that would speak to another motive:
MCs’ desire to build/maintain Congress’s institutional capacity vis-`a-vis the executive. See Schickler
(2001) for a discussion of MCs’ multiple interests.
35
as opposed to “workhorses,” who concentrate on crafting legislation and assembling coalitions, in
large part behind-the-scenes (Price, 2000, p. 64).
36
I acknowledge that endogeneity concerns often plague efforts to establish causal linkages between
electoral security and congressional action. Despite these concerns, I believe that Hypothesis H1 is
sound for two reasons. First, there is a strong theoretical basis for inferring causality from an observed
correlation here. In previous sections, I have (a) empirically demonstrated that seats on oversight-
25


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