Chairmanships in Congress

November 14, 1947

Report Outline
Committee Chairmen in Congressional Government
Seniority Rights in Congress
Effects of Promotion by Seniority
Proposed Substitutes for Seniority System
Special Focus

Committee Chairmen in Congressional Government

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which came into effect at the opening of the present Congress, failed to deal with two problems of prime importance in the conduct of legislative business. It made no provision for control of Senate filibusters or for change in the seniority system of awarding committee chairmanships. The problem of dealing with Senate filibusters presents no technical difficulties; many remedies are at hand whenever there is a will to apply them. Reform of the seniority system, on the other hand, raises complicated questions to which no easy answers can be given.

The report of the LaFollette-Monroney Committee on the Organization of Congress, which formed the basis of the Reorganization Act, was devoted in the main to improvement of the committee structure. The committee said, however, that, because of lack of agreement among its members, it was not prepared to make any recommendation for “workable changes” in the seniority system.

Frequent interference by beneficiaries of the seniority system during recent years with the execution of policies which commanded wide public support has generated pressure for change in the method by which committee chairmanships are awarded. Advancement of men to positions of leadership in Congress on the basis of their length of service has been found to obstruct the expression in legislation of the current popular will, the fulfillment of party pledges, and cooperation between the Legislative and Executive branches of the government. The dangers of such obstruction are greatest in periods, such as the present, when there are rapid changes in public opinion on leading issues and the parties are sharply divided on important questions of public policy.

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