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An examination of strategic opportunities provided by the conference committee procedure in the U.S. Congress

Publication Date
  • Law


Deference to committees in Congress has been a much studied phenomena for close to 100 years. This deference can be characterized as the unwillingness of a potentially winning coalition on the House floor to impose its will on a small minority, a standing committee. The congressional scholar is then faced with two problems: observing such deference to committees, and explaining it. Shepsle and Weingast have proposed the existence of an ex-post veto for standing committees as an explanation of committee deference. They claim that as conference reports in the House and Senate are considered under a rule that does not allow amendments, the conferees enjoy agenda-setting power. In this paper I describe a test of such a hypothesis (along with competing hypotheses regarding the effects of the conference procedure). A random-utility model is utilized to estimate legislators' ideal points on appropriations bills from 1973 through 1980. I prove two things: 1) that committee deference can not be said to be a result of the conference procedure; and moreover 2) that committee deference does not appear to exist at all.

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