Party Leadership and Legislative Cartel Theory

Topic: Political Communication
Words: 585 Pages: 2

Leadership is an important element for every organization, especially for powerful bodies such as the House of Representatives and Senate. Considering the fact that Congress is one of the main institutions of the United States, it becomes particularly interesting to explore its leadership principles. There is a considerable difference in the way party leadership works in the House of Representatives and Senate, and the legislative cartel theory explains some of its aspects.

Each chamber has both similarities and unique features in terms of party leadership. For instance, the House has a speaker, a leader of the majority party who presides over proceedings, determines which bills go to which committees, and adjusts committee assignments (Curry & Lee, 2019). In the case of the Senate, the functions of the speaker are shared among the leaders of the two parties, who need to cooperate together. In the House, the majority leader is usually the second-ranking member of the party. They are usually chosen by the speaker and responsible for the planning of the party’s legislative program. The minority leader is usually the head of the party who also organizes its actions (Curry & Lee, 2019). In Senate, the leaders of the two parties have less power than those in the House. Although the two Senate leaders, to a certain extent, share their power, the majority leader can begin debates on legislation and tends to influence committee assignment choices. In order to become a leader in Congress, a person must have a party affiliation.

The legislative cartel theory is a concept which describes the way parties, especially the majority ones, function in the House of Representatives. Essentially, the main idea is that the majority parties act as cartels by seizing power to create rules which govern the structure and process of legislation (Thieme, 2021). Since such parties possess the rule-making power in the House of Representatives, they face two outcomes. First of all, the majority party becomes able to adjust the legislative process and the committee system in its favor. For instance, by controlling the agenda, the majority party leadership can assign tasks to committees which will be in the interest of the majority party. Thus, the majority parties gain the ability to control the actions of the committees. Another consequence of having the rule-making power for the majority party is that its members are the primary players in most legislative deals. Moreover, in order to incentivize the members of Congress to participate in the cartel, the leadership provides them with benefits such as favorable committee assignments.

The legislative cartel theory is effective, as evidenced by state legislatures’ activities. Essentially, when the majority party gains procedural control over a state legislature, it receives the capacity to shape the policy outcomes. The majority party in the legislature begins to control the agenda and shapes it in a way which is consistent with the party’s interests. Once again, the party members decide to participate in such cartels in exchange for different benefits, including financial support for their campaign (Green, 2019). Thus, the majority party leadership manages to effectively obtain procedural and policy control in the legislature.

The leadership principles in the two chambers of Congress differ, while the legislative cartel theory provides a comprehensive explanation of how majority parties can promote their policies. The party leaders in the House of Representatives tend to have more power than those in the Senate. The legislative cartel theory describes how majority parties can incentivize their members, including through committee assignments, to support their agenda.


Curry, J., & Lee, F. (2019). Non-party government: Bipartisan lawmaking and party power in Congress. Perspectives on Politics, 17(1), 1–19.

Green, M. (2019). Subverting the organizational cartel: Explaining cross-party leadership selection in U.S. state houses. American Politics Research, 48(4), 475–483.

Thieme, S. (2021). A direct test of legislative gatekeeping. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 46(4), 855–888.

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