Party Leadership and the Legislative Cartel Theory: Analyzing the US Political System

Topic: Social & Political Theories
Words: 626 Pages: 2


The United States has a complex political system generally presented as bipartisan. The members of these two parties, Democrats and Republicans, occupy positions based on the party’s majority or minority presence in the House and Senate. The simple characterization of this relationship is their opposition – members of the Democratic and Republican parties represent the varying views of the public, thus supposedly supporting a two-sided discussion of national and international issues. Therefore, the members of Congress vote based on their voters’ positions in any given matter. Nevertheless, some theories, including the legislative cartel theory, argue for a different description of this system. The following essay compares the party leadership in the House and Senate and examines the nature of the legislative cartel theory at the national and state level.

Party Leadership in the House and the Senate

While both houses of Congress choose their majority and minority leaders, their roles in the groups are distinctly different. First, in the House of Representatives, majority leaders exercise a high level of authority, often being even more powerful than the Speaker (Heitshusen, 2018). Leaders have to fast-track negotiations if possible, and the majority party floor leader is responsible for this process (Heitshusen, 2018). Therefore, the majority leader has a crucial role in the legislature that passes through the House of Representatives, where a simple majority vote decides. In contrast, the Senate has a rule that at least two-thirds of its members have to agree for a vote to pass (Fortunato & Monroe, 2020). As a result, this distribution of votes makes one party’s leadership less stable, and minority leadership positions gain more power. Thus, a level of agreement between majority and minority leaders has to be achieved for negotiations to be fruitful.

The Legislative Cartel Theory

The idea that leaders from different parties must work together aligns with the principles introduced by the legislative cartel theory. This approach explores two main ideas – first, a cartel party may use its resources to guide its members’ decisions and votes (Fortunato & Monroe, 2020). Second, the formation of a cartel can also occur between both parties, where the members reach an agreement to pass certain bills or collude in other important activities (Fortunato & Monroe, 2020). In the first case, the differentiation between political parties remains present, as the pressure is placed on members of each respective party, and the focus is shifted from voters to the party’s interests (Hamm, 2019). In the second case, the line separating the two political parties becomes blurred as their members discuss agreements from a single point of view, leading to the formation of a cartel.

When looking at this theory from the state legislature’s perspective, some degree of bipartisan agreement is expected. Such activity may be viewed as necessary, especially at the Senate level, where a majority vote is crucial for passing any decision. As a result, one may argue that viewing members and non-members as competitors is unprofitable and unproductive. In the House, the majority party may form a cartel to promote its agenda with more power and increase the speed of any required discussion (Fortunato & Monroe, 2020). This use of authority is perceived as necessary to regulate the short-term influence of elected officials.


The bipartisan structure of the United States’ legislative branch is, in many cases, nominal. Members of both parties have a different set of values but often work together on various issues. The legislative cartel theory argues that this relationship is a part of the process rather than an anomaly. In the House and the Senate, the party leadership is essential in establishing an agenda. Nevertheless, a more one-sided conversation is possible only in the House, while the Senate’s majority and minority leaders have to share power.


Fortunato, D., & Monroe, N. W. (2020). Agenda control and electoral success in the US House. British Journal of Political Science, 50(4), 1583-1592.

Hamm, K. E. (2019). An assessment of state-legislative research. PS: Political Science & Politics, 52(3), 440-444.

Heitshusen, V. (2018). Party leaders in the House: election, duties, and responsibilities. Web.

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