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Archived: Why Holding the Majority Matters

On Capitol Hill, party status affects pretty much everything — even down to the fact that Members of the majority might meet in elegant rooms in the Capitol while Members of the minority may be relegated to the basement of one of the office buildings.

This is former Congressman Lee Hamilton, and I want to explain today “Why Holding the Majority Matters.” The party in the majority determines who can go on overseas fact-finding trips, enjoys all sorts of perks that make life on Capitol Hill more pleasant and, above all, sets the congressional agenda and controls how every piece of legislation will be debated.

I tell you this because it helps explain why members of Congress behave as they do when control of their chamber is at stake. If you’re concerned about excess partisanship, it’s worth knowing there are some basic institutional forces that make it difficult to overcome.

Reducing partisanship is not impossible. But it won’t happen unless both parties in Congress behave responsibly by setting a tone of mutual respect and fairness. They need to remember that Congress is there to make the country work, not to offer an arena for political maneuvering.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.