Scholars have developed three major theories for explaining the development of the committee system. Compare and contrast these three theories and explain which you think is most relevant to the modern Congress.

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Rational choice theories are prevalent explanations for the development of the committee system in the U.S. Congress. Committees are a central feature of all three major theories of congressional organization. Those three major theories, which are all rational choice theories, are the distributive, informational, and partisan perspectives on the development of the committee system.

The distributive theory posits that the internal procedures and structural arrangements in Congress are supposed to promote stable policy outcomes and the electoral interests of members. Committee jurisdictions are designed to reflect electorally relevant interests, and the committee assignment process ensures that members generally will be placed on panels for policy areas important to their constituencies.

An alternative theory, the informational theory, posits that the internal organization of Congress was primarily designed to provide the full House and Senate with the expertise and information necessary to competently produce legislation. Committees can influence legislative outcomes by using their specialized expertise to provide the full chamber with information about the consequences of policy alternatives. The committees of the House and Senate are instruments of the legislature. In contrast to distributive theory, the informational model predicts that all committees will not be granted the same procedural advantages in the full chamber. Instead, when committee members have more expertise and are more representative of the chamber as a whole, it is more likely that the full membership will assent to the panel’s research and analysis on the floor.

In addition to the distributive and informational theories, a third theory to explain congressional organization is the partisan perspective. According to this theory, the majority party leadership makes the important decisions about committee composition and structure. Party politics plays a big role in committee features. This theory seems to be the most relevant to the modern Congress. In contrast with the distributive and information theories, this theory assumes that parties are highly partisan and opposed to the policy objectives of the other party or parties. So this theory explains why Republicans and Democrats are highly polarized in the U.S. Congress. Members of each party, under this theory, devise rules, regulations, and structures that serve the party's policy interests. They wan to achieve legislative goals that advance the party's agenda, regardless of whether the information backing those goals is from experts or if their constituencies are best served by the committees's policy areas.



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